Saturday, February 9, 2008

Faith as a gift

I know this is primarily a parenting blog, but I feel like I have to write what's on my mind, and what's on my mind right now is faith.

At the church we used to attend in Chicago, before we moved to Seattle, we were given a test in our membership class to suss out our spiritual gifts, which for the uninitiated in Christianese are gifts of character and ability that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on believers. I wasn't sure even then what I thought of this concept of determining spiritual gifts -- filling in the exhaustive multiple-choice quiz felt a little self-indulgent (for instance, here's a newfangled online one that proclaims that it takes an hour to complete), more like the personality profile of eHarmony than a spiritual discernment process. (Well, I'm imagining the eHarmony thing -- no, that's not how I met Sam.) Here are a couple other examples, in case you're curious to take your own evaluation. The gifts themselves are listed various places in the New Testament letters, and include such qualities as wisdom, prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, teaching, administration, etc. Well, I'm imagining you've stopped reading unless you're already interested in these types of things, so I'll stop explaining it and just move on.

So, anyhow, my top three gifts came back as faith, giving, and (a made up one of) creative communication. That last one is not listed anywhere in the Bible, but it seemed appropriate to the quiz makers, and I can certainly see it as a gift from God for the purpose of strengthening the church, since it mostly means I like to sing, write, and generally be all artsy for God. Ok, so I agreed with the giving (meaning that once upon a time I was generous, a subject for another post) and the creative communication dealio.

But I felt totally gypped that one my spaces for gifts, and my top one at that, was taken up by the completely useless gift faith. (Hey, is "gypped" an offensive term? Maybe I should stop using it in case. Well, here, I'll make up an ethnic slur against my very white people: The supermarket clerk totally finned me the other day. I don't know what it means, but it sounds bad, right?)

I had been hoping one of my gifts would be prophecy, so I could tell people I was a prophetess. (It sounded cool.) But here one of my spots was taken up with this dead wood. What kind of a gift was faith? Didn't all of us taking this quiz have faith, or we wouldn't be in a church membership class to begin with? I checked with Sam, and sure enough, his first gift was faith as well. I began to think the test was rigged.

But then we met with the other students of our membership class and found that faith was an uncommon result. I still felt like it should be a no-brainer quality of a Christian, but I decided to be grateful to have it so easily and accept that this was my gift. For life, I thought.

It turns out gifts can be taken back, even by the Spirit. (And I know "Indian giver" is offensive, so I won't even go there. What's up with that term, anyway? And, while I'm on the subject, is there a different term for "Indian summer," a phenomenon I really do appreciate, global warming concerns notwithstanding? Oh, thank you, Wikipedia, I'm now calling it "Saint Martin's Summer." Just to extend this detour further, I love that the caption for the top picture is "An Indian summer day." I guess we'll have to take your word for it, caption writer, since pictures can't really show us what temperature it is.)

And, we're back.

I don't know where the ease of believing went to, but now doubt is far simpler for me than trusting. Questions I once would have answered "Always" to such as "I hold fast to my personal belief in the truth even in the presence of ridicule, apparent failure, or pain" or "I am totally convinced God will fulfill his word even if He is not doing so yet" I now have difficulty even considering. I mean that literally -- it's painful for me even to contemplate my lack of faith, since it's been my identity my whole life long.

I feel like I've become too rational, too skeptical and scientific, too "prove it" about everything. But the rational, scientific part of me says how can I be too skeptical? And, anyway, how can I turn my mind off and become someone less thinking, less analytical?

I loved the first time I read Augustine's words: "Wherever we taste the truth, God is there." But the five thousandth time tasting truth, I begin to wonder if it is indeed God flavoring it.

I want to believe. But I don't want to be mired in immaturity like the 7-year-old me who decided to revert to believing in Santa Claus for just one more year because it just felt so good, and because all my friends were doing it. There's faith for the wrong reasons in a nutshell.

Come on, Holy Spirit, give it back. Give it to me so I can go back to being unwavering and certain, so I can have that comforting "well, duh," attitude about my religion.

If I can't have my faith in Christianity, I can't even rest on some flowery "spirituality" thing like some people enjoy. The people who say that we're all one and the divine is in all of us, blah, blah. Because if the core of what I believe isn't true, then none of it is, and faith is a nonsense word. Then we're just molecules stuck together at random, controlled by evolution and existing until, one by one, and eventually planet by planet, we just don't anymore, except that our molecules separate out and mix with something else. And that's just too depressing and narrow to live with.

Pursuing faith is hard work. I liked when it was something I could take for granted, even though the definition of that is that I never appreciated it when I had it so good.

P.S. For my Washington state readers (yes, just you, Sam), go to your caucus at 1 p.m. today! Be all democratic and such. (I can have faith in some things.)


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