I am beginning a series of responsive essays based on Barbara Brown Taylor's newest book. As I work out the words for what Learning to Walk in the Dark speaks to me, I fumble. In the dark, I may offend. But, I hold fast to this: “There is a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John1:5)
As I began these essays, I was unsure of the path forward and then it came: I would write my shift from religion to faith. I would write my loss of faith in the institution of Christianity, but my gain of faith in Christ. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36 KJV)
The Darkness Within Plastic Faith
If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God. ~ Augustine
From the front seat of the land rover, I grab the colorful catalog full of trinkets from a child: faith, hope, and love on strings grace the pages. How charming. I swing for the catalog and then jam it between my car seat and the main console with all the other junk mail. I holler at them, “You can't have that right now, not when we aren't living it!” That settled it, or did it?
My kids love the popular catalog of trinkets selling Christianity in bulk for pint sized believers. I ask myself: is this value-added Christianity similar to a McDonald's Happy Meal, but simply with a religious flavor? Do these trinkets of faith represent anything of true happiness, or true substance? Plastic faith leads to plastic people. And plastic faith eventually breaks, like the McDonald's toy or catalog junk. Worse, it could be thrown out by an adult. At church no less.
Yes, it's hard to build and live an authentic life filled with true faith. Harder yet in our first world, consumeristic, holier-than-thou, post modern, reasoning culture. If we can consume Jesus with our junk, we've arrived. Yet when plastic faith breaks, we get our hearts broken. If I find myself throwing my faith out, maybe I need to ask if it was ever faith in the first place? Maybe it was just religiousness. Tried and found wanting. Plastic faith and plastic people be damned.
When our plastic faith has been broken, thrown out, or both, we are now in a place of consummation*: God's altar, but it feels like a consuming fire. His mountain. His presence. His fire. Yet, on His mountain these three remain: faith, hope, and love. In Oregon, the Three Sisters peaks of the Cascade mountain range are named Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). These peaks remind me that the failure of a plastic faith can propel you and me up the mountain, into the shroud of God. A world containing both dark and light.
The God of Moses is holy, offering no seat belts or other safety features to those who wish to climb the mountain to enter the dark cloud of the divine presence. Those who go assume all risk and give up all claim to reward. Those who return say the dazzling dark inside the cloud is reward enough.
~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
And so I climb out of religious darkness and its soul wearying ways and onto peaks of truth: Faith, Hope, and Love. But these peaks of truth are often summited in darkness. Seasons of dark unknowing. Faith. This unknowing faith clings to mountain rocks and draws me closer to God. When I can't see in the shroud, I cling to the Rock and rise.
To some, this unknowing faith appears as abandonment of God, fellow believers, and finally faith. It's not abandonment. My faith in Christ is intact, but the rules and creeds men have made to define Christ and Christianity have gone by the wayside. Ironically, in Oregon, I'm not alone. We are known as one of the “least churched” states in the nation. On many a Sunday, Oregonians are found in the cathedral of the woods. I used to judge those in their wooded sanctuaries on Sundays. Now, I often want to join them.
God may be found in Spirit filled sanctuaries made by men, but He's also found in sanctuaries carpeted with grass, rocks, and water. Christ increased his faith in the woods. He held fast to the mountainous journey he undertook. Filled with God, fully God, He became the sacrament. We too are called to be filled. We too are called to hold the Sacred. Within us. And so I journey up the mountain, into the darkness, and seek to behold the Sacred.
*Latin for: “to complete” or “to fulfill"