Any person struggling to become encounters a crisis of self that, if movement is to occur, must not be sidestepped or dismantled in the name of piety. Such the last year and a half has been for me. My wrestling with Christianity has taken such a turn that, at times, I think: “I am absolutely not a practicing Christian in this moment.” The moments are frequent. More frequent than I openly acknowledge. From pounding my fists against my chest wondering why I was taken advantage of last year and what I am to do with the experience, to hitting my head against the wall as Ben and I little by little lose hope that we have anything to do with evangelicalism anymore, to weeping over the chaos and violence that is the everyday existence of humans in places like Gaza, Ukraine, and Ferguson, to feeling the confusing flux between the privilege the white in the West have been fortified by and my own identity as a woman in a non-egalitarian society, to losing friends and relationships shape-shifting as Ben and I step into a new season in our relationship… The accounts of my agony and the world’s agony are endless, and here I stand, immobilized.
I can’t move.
I’m not so much a fool as to think progress is an end, nor do I think liberal societies have the answer to the world’s deep wound any better than highly conservative ones. Little Teagan, as I often call the child of faith I have been, wants to say, “The person of Jesus Christ is the only hope we have!” and to proclaim it in every ear I come across. An instant after I have the compulsion to do this, which is becoming more and more infrequent, I realize that I do not know him. My eyes are dark. The Spirit I feel rolling over my skin, physically giving me goosebumps even in 90 degree heat, is as much a mystery to me as ever. I listen to close friends and even closer still to my heart, my lover, confess that they are nearer to believing there is nothing rather that something, and my feelings are more like finally feeling understood than empathy. I’m at my end.
And yet, I went to my class yesterday and instantly teared as my professor placed a crucifix in the front of the room before uttering a word. He says we are there to “stand up before God,” and I confess I do not know what this means. The very lifeblood of my self has always, it seems, been Christianity and this faith and the God of Jesus Christ, but what now? My faith is too small to withstand the crashing wave of voices from every side saying, “Here is truth! Come to our camp,” if indeed I have faith at all. I stand on the precipice of nonfeeling, and unbelief, but I still reach out beyond me in faith. Perhaps this is what it is to be Christian. I rail against projecting onto God that we must feel Presence in order for existence to be reality. I do not feel God, but I often feel God. How great are the paradoxes!
I have been silent here as of late because I see all-too-often many young theologian-wannabes who are simply spitting into the wind of the internet their firey passions. I recall my best friend’s mother saying to us both, after an exceptionally awe-inspiring trip to Mexico that left us filled with excitement and wonder, that embers are what keep fires going. That’s it: embers. I related this to another best friend and my lover while sitting around a fire in the forest of Washington this past weekend, and wondered if we had any heat left, or if fire is even an accurate picture of the Christian life in the first place. I’m burnt out, and I have no embers: only ash.
Am I stupid or naive to desperately hope that passages like the one below mean everything in light of what I have described above?
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14 ESV)