Months ago I was sitting in the office of our church waiting for a book club to begin, when one of our parishioners popped his head in to say hello. We chatted a little bit about the book I was reading at the time and the conversation flowed to one I hadn’t read… “Messy Spirituality” by Mike Yaconelli. I don’t remember much of what my friend said, only the way his face lit up when he spoke about the things the book showed him and how much he had enjoyed the author before his untimely demise. I said “Yeah, I’ll check that out some time” the way I always do when someone tells me about something new, and I proceeded to forget about it the way I always do when someone tells me to check out something new.
Fast forward and I’m shambling through the aisles at a used bookstore in Knoxville. I’m standing with my head cocked, reading the various titles, (the fact that I’m even looking in the Christian section of the bookstore shows that I’m light years beyond where I was when I started this blog) when I came across a copy of “Messy Spirituality.” Seventy-five cents? Sold!
I’ve finally begun reading the book and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Not only did I absolutely agree and sympathize with everything the author said, I felt I could have wrote the words myself. This isn’t as cool as it sounds… This has happened before and I was sad to discover that the authors of some books had nothing new to tell me. I was afraid Messy Spirituality would follow suit; and then:
We were talking about prayer. “It’s embarrassing to be sitting with you,” I blurted. “You spend days, weeks, even months in prayer. I’m lucky if I spend ten minutes. Compared to you, I’m not very spiritual I’m afraid.”
Her eyes, flashing with anger, caught mine, and she fired back, “Oh, Mike, knock it off. First of all, you don’t spend every day with me. You don’t know me at all. You are comparing what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me. Secondly, I battle depression daily, and it has won during several periods of my life. I never told you about it. I don’t have a family; I like to be alone and silent. Trust me, I’m just as ‘unspiritual’ as you are.”
Then she said gently, “You think about God all the time, right?”
“Well, sort of,” I said.
“Thinking about God is being with God. Being with God is spirituality. Thinking about God is praying. So shut up about this guilt stuff; you’ve been praying most of your life! You are a spiritual person!”
When I started this blog, I was angry, hurting, and desperate to find God. The only thing I was sure of was that I had royally screwed something up and for reasons I couldn’t quite discern, God had gone silent. This blog was an attempt to focus my efforts on finding him again and in the two years I’ve been writing here, I think I’ve been more or less successful in that regard… But it wasn’t until I read that passage I realized how much of the past I was holding on to.
I grew up in the Church. My entire life, I’ve been told that the hallmarks of being a good Christian were reading your Bible and praying. Praying had a very specific and rigid definition… It was communicating at God by speaking out loud or possibly by forming the words in your brain. I’ve written before about the fact that I used to be really good at praying in this way… and ever since the Great Silence, it has been a skill that I’ve not been able to cultivate.
If I’m honest, it’s not one I’ve spent much time really focusing on. From time to time I’ll try to pray, but somewhere along the way I’ve come to the conclusion that God knows me through and through and that speaking in such a direct manner wasn’t necessary… But it wasn’t until I read this passage that I realized that I have felt the weight of guilt pressing down on me for years because of it.
Despite my liberal theology, despite the fact that I cognitivelyknow that God loves me to a degree that would terrify me if I knew the depths of it, a part of me was still clinging to the belief that for me to be the Christian God wanted me to be, I had to behave in the prescribed manner. Because I couldn’t whip myself into a frenzy of disciplined good little do-be prayer, I was less a Christian than anyone else.
The moment I read those words, I felt a pressure on my chest and a lump begin to grow in my throat. It was the first time I considered the notion that maybe sitting at this computer and writing down my thoughts about God might be enough. It was the first time I allowed myself to believe that these blog posts are the lyrics to a love song I sing two times a week. This blog was started so I could find my way back to the path I had lost… And this was the first time I’ve ever considered that maybe I’ve actually forged ahead into new territory. For the first time in literal years I feel like maybe…just maybe I’m okay, and God thinks so too.