Spirituality, Liturgy and the Tao of Inner Peace
I am in a class at my church called EfM, it stands for Education for Ministry, it’s a group of lay (not clergy) individuals who take on a four-year study of the bible. It hopes that we will in turn use what we learn to minister to other individuals in our congregation and world, it also serves as a way to learn so much more about the bible, church history, and theology. In this class each year we are asked to write a spiritual autobiography, a sort of memoir if you will, of our spiritual journey to the present day. Each year we are given a little different prompt as to what to write, and this year one of the prompts is “conversion” ….here is mine for 2016.
I am a young girl about 9, my head is buried in my coat in front of me on the back of the pew of our very small country church in rural north Alabama. I am scared and there are tears on my face. The preacher has been going on for awhile, he is walking up and down the aisle yelling about the ways of sin, he list different sins and how they are an abomination and will send us straight to hell. He paints the most horrific picture of this place and I begin to see myself in some of these sins and fear I will be found in this terrible place should I pass on to the next life. My mother ask me what’s wrong? Am I upset by the visiting preacher? I tell her I am – that I am afraid. It’s not long after that night at church I make a plan to go down and tell the pastor I want to be “saved” – meaning that I have accepted Jesus into my heart, I am a believer in him, and I will forever be saved from hell, I am feeling good having my fire insurance in place. In the next week or so, we plan the baptism and I am submerged in the large bath tub like boat in the back of the sanctuary for the whole congregation to see. Following the commandment to be baptised just like Jesus was – for if you do not recognize me before man He will not recognize you before the Father. It is a good day. Now I suppose it would be easy to surmise from this story that I was just scared into my salvation conversion, but as with many things in life, it’s not that simple. Do I remember the visiting preacher and the fear of hell? As clear as it was yesterday, but I also had a genuine belief in Jesus Christ and an honest desire to be a part of my church and a believer. I went on to prove that throughout my adolescence, see unlike many young people I had a deep desire to do what was right, to sway the world to conquer injustice and wrong doing. Yes, I was a bit…how shall we say it– intense. As a teenager I was an active member in my youth group and all of it’s activities. Living in a small rural community in the bible belt I was not alone, most all of my friend were active in church as well, in fact one of the first questions to ask any outsider was “Where do you go to church?” I attended revivals, and sang in the church choir, I traveled to churches and sang solos, I even witnessed to my un-churched friends. I remember talking the high school choir director out of singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” because it mentioned Beelzebub and that was the devil you know!? I was very content in my rules, I was comfortable with what was right and wrong and who fell where, believers go to heaven, the rest go to Hell, there’s no cursing, drinking, lying for those of us headed to the “good” place. I am standing in front of my home church 18 years old scared, but determined as I tell the story of how one night reading my bible in my room I heard “the call” from God, and I like Moses I had answered “Here I am Lord, send me.” Still one of the most precious moments of my life, and though there are many more conversions since then, I still have no doubt about that moment in my room. I was licensed by my Southern Baptist church to go into the music ministry and I went forth to Samford University, a beautiful southern campus in Birmingham, AL with wonderful professors and students. I began to search out my church family, much like my youth, being at a Baptist college I was surrounded by friends who were also church goers, so nothing abnormal or difficult about that. I began to go into the churches in this big city, at least to this country girl, Birmingham was the big city. One after the other I attended but felt lost, I was 18 and here I was trying to make the biggest decision of my life. All I had ever known were the small and quaint churches of my home and here I was anything but comfortable…in a mega church world. I will never forget lined up with the A Cappella Choir to sing at a local church, my best friend and freshman roommate behind me, the church was putting on a skit. Imagine if you will a large church with multiple rows of long beige pews, a large stage up front probably 5-6 yards deep, and a lady in workout apparel on the stage riding a stationary bike…I can’t remember at all what the skit was about, I just remember my friend a Catholic standing behind me as she could barely get her breath she said almost vehemently “WHY ARE THEY RIDING A BIKE ON THE ALTAR OF GOD!?” “They are doing a skit,” I told her, wondering what the big deal was?….but it left a seed in my mind that I couldn’t shake. Had my church become more of a stage and an audience and less of a holy of holies? I am in piano with my favorite teacher Dr. Sanders, he was always kind and he taught our music history as well, I loved the old rituals of the early church he spoke of, the Kyrie, the Sanctus, this form of worship that was foreign to me. He was Episcopalian, and after I had to abandon my plan of being a Baptist music minister because I just couldn’t find my way, I gave his church a try. This was a new conversion for me, I found a worship and education I had not had in my previous walk. I was enamored with the liturgy, the dance if you will, of the whole service and the in-depth preaching and scholarly thought-provoking way the priest laid out thoughts for the week. There was no one point, no call to be ‘saved’ there was just food for thought. I wish I could say this was the happy ending of my spiritual journey but that would be too easy wouldn’t it? As I learned more I believed less, I had failings in my personal life that shook the foundation of what I had believed. I had failed marriages and missteps that made me wonder about a God at all. How could someone who had always followed the straight and narrow have such bad things happen? Why didn’t good things happen for me? I had to re-evaluate everything I believed in. I was converted again by my desire to have children and a strong pull to have them grow up in faith. For all the missteps I had, I knew my early education and exposure to church had over-all been a good thing. So ten years after my leaving the ministerial scholarship at Samford University I was a busy bee at St. John’s in Decatur, AL and soon found myself in the position of Children’s Choir Mistress. It was awhile before it came to mind that I was following “my calling”…all these years later, another conversion. I would go through another divorce, and more trials, I would come to face my addiction to love and affirmation from others, and I would take time off from ministering to just be me and sit in the congregation and listen to God. I have an affection for the eastern religion of Buddhism and I have studied their faith and found many similarities and comforts in the meditative practices. I am at a place in my journey where I am comfortable with the mysteries, more than the legalism. I choose at this point in life to be very centered and happy in not knowing more than the knowing. In fact I am skeptical of those that “know” and I am drawn to those that are not sure. I think the more I mature I realize that God is much bigger than I could ever understand, and that I would be foolhardy to even begin to think I or my group has all the answers, God is much bigger than that, and I am okay with that. I choose to believe that God is Love and Love is God, that we each have something good in us, no one person or sect has it all together, and there is certainly no exclusive on the truth. I know that I have not reached my final conversion, I believe I am to be of service and especially in this last year it pulls me more and more everyday, but unlike my 18 year old-self I know it’s in God’s time not mine and his/her time will be perfect. Until the next path I wish you well, I wish you many thoughts, I wish you Love.