Sunday, August 06, 2006

Religious ramblings

I'm a Christian who struggles daily with my faith. Many times I find myself in the position of (I think it was) St. Teresa of Avila who said, "I don't want you, God, but I want to want you." That's not easy for me to admit. I can look at so many things and say this is why faith is such a struggle for me. One of the key tenets of Christianity is grace; the love, forgiveness and salvation of God/dess is something that cannot be earned, yet something that can't be earned goes against everything I've been taught.

I was admittedly spoiled as a child, the baby of the family, the youngest kid on my block and used to having things done for me, but I still remember the conversation about the importance of doing things on my own and standing up for myself I had with my dad when I was four. I can see us in the little den that my sister and I used as a playroom, the two of us sitting on the couch beneath the double window. Sometimes I feel that I've been trying to prove that I could do things, in fact, everything, on my own since then. I learned to distrust anything that came easily. Being book smart, my grades had little value unless I could show that I had really worked to earn them. My writing, when I was younger, felt the same way. Stories and poetry just seemed to flow, and a blank page was more often an invitation than a challenge.

As an adult, looking for career advancement, I knew that I couldn't count on social skills to get me the edge that I wanted (those games of golf and raquetball are still amazingly gender segregated), so I chose to work hard. Even with a baby at home, the sixty hour work week was the norm. When my income nearly tripled within two years, I could look at what I'd accomplished, know that I'd earned it and feel good about it. The down side of this was that when things went wrong, I knew it was all my fault, and I took everything to heart.

Add religion into this mix. Coming from a fundamentalist Southern Baptist background, the role of sin in one's life is highly stressed. If there are problems in one's life, people are sometimes told to look for unconfessed sin to find the reason. I believe in the confession of sins to our Creator. I believe in looking at oneself to find these sins, but taken to extremes, this can become a form of what I call voodoo Christianity. Ah -- that jealousy over your sister's McMansion is the reason you haven't been blessed with greater financial prosperity. That secret contempt you've got for the co-worker who still dresses in the heights of Miami Vice (Don Johnson era) fashion is the pin in the heart of your own spirit. It's something you've done wrong that you aren't receiving the Lord's blessings! Among other reasons, this is why I'm no longer a fundamentalist. No one is ever going to be able to eliminate the imperfections from their life. We're not built that way. Only God/dess is capable of perfection.

Then there is the Biblical advice that faith without works is dead. This makes perfect sense to me. If I love someone and look to them as my instructor, guide and role model and believe what they say, I want to be like them. Jesus loved and taught us to love, so out of my love for Jesus and desire to be like Him, I try to love. I try to serve. These are acts of my own effort, or so it seems.

I can look at myself and say that I'm a fairly good person. I'm basically honest and decent. I do my best not to hurt others, and I even try to help most of the time. I work at this. Yet again, the Bible tells us that none is good but God. It took me a long time to get that what this comes down to is that God/dess is beyond the realm of people. Human goodness simply cannot be compared to the greatness, the Holiness, the purity, the complete and total goodness of God/dess.

So, how does this all tie into grace? There are times in our lives when we simply have to receive, to accept that our Creator loves us and wants us to receive divine blessings. For someone who's used to grabbing my bootstraps (okay, my pantyhose) to achieve things in life, this concept is more mind-blowing than any 60's era hallucinogenic. It's been a challenge of faith. I've had to ask for a lot of help in my life, and I've hated it just about every time. I didn't care whether it was lifting something too heavy for me or asking my father for a little financial help. I hated it, because I didn't earn it. Now, here I am. I've been a Christian for nearly 30 years, and I'm learning again some of the basics of my faith. I've prayed for knowledge and wisdom to solve problems, and I will continue to do so. I'll continue to work on solving my own problems, but I think I'm learning that answers, solutions and gifts that just come are meant to be part of both my temporal and spiritual life.


Blogger quakerdave said...

I have nothing to add to this, other than to say it's good to know that others share in the struggle. I think this is the struggle we are meant to have to achieve grace. Those whom I perceive as having what I would call "grace" are those that have committed to this struggle through the good works they do for others. It's all of a piece.

And I must say, it's been, for me, a struggle that bears endless fruit.

August 07, 2006 9:35 PM  
Blogger Theresa Williams said...

I love the Avila quote. I've never seen it before. It was hard for me to let go of straightforward Christianity at first. It has taken a lot of thinking, meditating, writing, and reading to get to a place I'm comfortable with. I will always struggle, though, with how to achieve oneness. Literature and writing seem to point the way. Although you are questioning in this entry, I sense a kind of peace, too.

August 08, 2006 1:21 AM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

I love this entry, Cynthia.I have concluded that it takes a lot of nerve really to look at God, and to try and see what God sees when God looks at you. (Which is not, as far as I can tell, a Terrible and Depraved Sinner.) Persistence and Nerve. I'm not sure why those aren't listed among the Cardinal Virtues.

August 08, 2006 10:39 AM  

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