Out here so far from home, the fire of Pentecostal fervor and the build-and-crash of revival music I wonder, would I ever go back? Would I ever return to what Jonathan Martin calls the “Christ haunted landscape” of my upbringing? When so much has shifted mentally and theologically, I wonder if I would still find a place of comfort in the religion of my past.
The path I think a lot of us wanderers and misfits have taken is not a breakaway from one set of theological precepts to another. It’s not like we just simply traded conservative theology for progressive theology. What I mean to say is, it’s not a shift that happens solely in the mind.
There’s this moment, and I think a lot of my fellow wanderers will know what I’m talking about, this moment where it’s like you wake up to the beauty of the world and see God in everyone. The blinders come off and you no longer see sinner and saint, believer and unbeliever. Instead you see the real suffering and struggle and the inherent beauty of all creation. That’s more than just a change in beliefs, that’s a paradigm shift.
I think it’s the difficulty so many of us have in setting foot in church again. Before we would have felt right at home and at comfort in our well-worn pews. Now, we approach church with a sense of hopeful caution. We know what we want to find inside those doors but we’re not taking any chances either. And can you blame us? When the whole world has turned to fire in front of our eyes, when mercy has lit this thing ablaze, how do we sit in pews and talk about the dreaded “them?” Not to say that many of us won’t darken the doors of a church again, we will. And we’ll muster every ounce of hope to do so.
It’s no longer simply a question of “why would we go back,” more like “how would we even go back?” How would we trade a paradigm of mercy and grace for a black and white world of “us and them?” How would we darken our eyes to the fiery beauty of creation? There’s no change in beliefs sufficient to do the task. What has happened has happened in our hearts, in the core of who we are.
I’m reminded of the words of Peter to Jesus, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of life.” Once you’ve tasted of the “words of life” I think it’s near impossible to go back. The words of life aren’t doctrinal precepts or rigid beliefs. Rather they melt our heart-walls, returning us to the childlike state which views all the world as beautiful and all her inhabitants as sacred.
And the words of life aren’t found in doctrinal confessions or in lofty tomes;
They are eaten in times of desperation.
They are seen in mountain top experiences of joy.
They are touched in the humble moments of friendship.
The words of life are found when and where it matters most: when life gets shitty, and when life gets intimate — that is, when life gets sacred. There’s no doctrine sufficient to express the pain in a loss loved one, or in the birth of a long-awaited child. Doctrine just won’t do. But beauty will. Mercy will.
The words of life allow us to see all the world as sacred, all moments as consecrated. All food as blessed, all people as loved. And the words of life teach us to bless all things. We can’t get to this place by simply shifting beliefs around or doctrine-delving in the latest theological fad. We must wander with Jesus awhile, allow him to change us, to teach us, to transfigure us.
Where else would we go?
Jesus has the words of life.
Abba has the words of life.