Think back to the good old days when most Catholics and Protestants went to church each Sunday? These are often touted as the ‘golden days’ when few doubted God’s existence, and our churches were filled with generous contributors, and everyone, or almost everyone, professed to be Christian. Now think, was the world any more loving, honest, merciful, forgiving, than it is today. Maybe, but in my humble experience, I remember little evidence. When all were Christian, most felt quite satisfied with the status quo, and felt little challenge to explore and deepen faith.
Of course, I speak in generalities, and there were some memorable and wonderful people who I remember, and still consider saints. The point I want to make is just this. Faith is a gift that must never grow stagnant, or be taken for granted. It is about being light amidst the darkness. Maybe the times we live in, and the ‘crisis of faith’ we perceive around us, is God’s way of shaking things up, and drawing us into a more committed relationship with God, one another, and the world – a deeper and more mature faith.
A few days ago, I came across a little article by a protestant pastor in New Brunswick. He writes about, “the spiritual life of the disciples in relationship with Jesus, and how this might help us understand. and put into perspective the ‘crisis in faith’ we all talk about and lament. Instead of longing for the good old days, he focuses on the present in terms of the past, and poses some questions of discernment for us:
“Do we allow people to challenge convention, become disillusioned, doubt, and even question God and the faith? Do we allow this even as Jesus did? Can we perhaps begin to see that these moments might actually be expressions of faith? Can we consider the possibility that someone abandoning their faith and leaving the church could actually be a potential development in their spirituality, a stage where they are being beckoned to abandon their child-like faith to move toward a more mature and adult faith? And can we allow people to linger in any of these movements without time limits? I think these are important questions to consider.” (David Hayward)
I think, if you take the time to read his full article, and spend some time trying to answer his questions, then you might find yourself a little more open to the faith journey of the other, and for that matter, yourself. I am not proposing that everything he says should be literally accepted and applied, as the gospel truth. But the questions and ‘movements’ he speak about should help us to broaden our perspective and approach to faith. When Jesus met the women at the well, he opened her heart to receive the living waters of faith. We too, are called to do the same. How we go about it, is the never ending question. Here is the full article by Pastor David Hayward:
I’ve been thinking of the spiritual life of the disciples in relationship with Jesus, and how this might help me understand myself as well as those in my community, as well as those who have left:
- The first movement is the call to discipleship. Come, follow me. There is some kind of turn from what we have been to a new way of being and living. There is a sense of intimacy and fellowship, as well as immediacy. The disciples ate, drank and slept with Jesus and stayed with him throughout his itinerancy. This is accompanied by the sense power, authority, and the possibility of the miraculous. These are the earliest days of our faith… the honeymoon. Church is our new family… fun, exciting and filled with anticipation.
- The next is the a bout of questioning. We suddenly realize that not everybody is as thrilled as we are about Jesus or the faith. In fact, we discover indifference towards Jesus. The roots of our faith are starting to strain as we begin to slowly realize that the agenda Jesus has (the cross) is in direct opposition to our agenda (to overtake and change the world with him). We need the church at this point to encourage us to persevere. Our Christian friends help us through this difficult time.
- The third might be the movement where we start to consider the possibility that the truth of Jesus is more important than the miracles. What he is saying is emphasized. We still hope for the miraculous and beg him for it, but it always seems to come back to truth. Even Jesus teaches us in the gospels that unless we believe his word, then not even someone rising from the dead will convince us. Finally, Jesus says, you are beginning to understand what I’m saying. This is a period of the growth of spiritual knowledge. We take notes during the sermon. We attend bible studies. We read Christian books.
- The fourth movement might be a time of doubt. We just can’t seem to get our head around the fact that following Jesus is full of hardship, suffering and seeming doom. There is joy, but we are becoming aware of the fact that this joy is a serious matter. The cross looms on the horizon of our lives. What we thought was going to be a life-changing and world-changing endeavor has become mundane, difficult, confusing and threatening. We begin to question the foundations of our faith. We might even question why we began this whole journey to begin with if it’s just going to end up in defeat. It’s beginning to lose its thrill. Here’s where we start to feel like we don’t belong in our church. We start to feel like we are slipping away.
- The fifth is a movement of rejection. We realize that the world is not only indifferent towards Jesus, but hostile towards him and the faith. We are like sheep among wolves. This might not come in the form of people, but ideas, ideologies and life itself. Nothing in this world seems to support out faith. Nothing seems to want to reinforce our relationship with Jesus. Jesus makes no sense. The “Jesus” within slowly seems to fade. He seems to be disappearing. The faith we had in him seems to be drying up. We seem to be dying spiritually. Even our own minds begin to question our own hearts and our spiritual decisions. If we are still a part of a church, we are starting to feel like nobody understands.
- The sixth movement is the death of Jesus, or even the death of God. The faith we once had has vanished. We question everything. He is essentially dead and buried. We can rightly say, “I don’t believe in Jesus anymore!” That is, the Jesus we once knew is gone. The Jesus of our childhood, of the early years of our faith, has passed away. He has died, and he has died within us. We can’t feel the passion of his life beating within our hearts like we once did. We conclude that we have finally back-slidden. We feel like strangers and aliens in the church. Now we feel like we really don’t belong. We are misfits.
- The seventh might be the darkness of the grave. We feel nothing anymore. Our faith is dead and buried, and our hearts are dark and cold within us as it relates to the faith. Much of Christianity and religion in general seems like nonsense anymore. We resort to the notion that our faith was just some kind of childishness we went through. We are like those on the road to Emmaus and conclude the whole thing was just a silly illusion. Oh, we wish it were true. If only it was! The church is history. Or if it isn’t, we hide our darkness behind our church-going exterior.
- The eighth is where we may abandon the faith. We go back to fishing. We figure the whole thing was just a stage we went through. We just aren’t up to it anymore and would rather be authentic than put on a show. We can no longer pretend. We are no longer followers of Jesus. We are like Thomas who won’t believe unless he sees. But unlike Thomas, we don’t have the luxury of being affirmed. The life of faith is no longer an option… intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. We might talk with others about C
hristianity or any other faith as though it is just some kind of strange social phenomenon, perhaps useful, perhaps harmless. But we talk about it as if it was an ex.
- The ninth movement is represented by Mary in the garden. She is full of fear and sorrow. The Jesus of her faith is gone and she can’t cope. When there is any hint of him though, she clings to him. Here is where we might, in desperation, resort back to our earlier stages of faith. But Jesus urges us to let go of this earlier, immature and tactile form of faith, for he must ascend. We are beckoned to a deeper level of faith where he is not tangible, recognizable, or immediate. This is where, I believe, we are stretched into a more global, universal, all-embracing kind of faith, the kind of faith where God is The All in all. Here is where some who yearn for the easy early days of their faith and long to feel a part of the good old church do whatever they can to stir up that old time religion once more.
- The tenth and final movement is where we wait for the Spirit. Pictured by the disciples waiting in the upper room, we wait for the fullness of the Spirit that gives us compassion for the whole world. We will be moved beyond ourselves and those close to us to love all people and show compassion to all. Like Mother Teresa and many like her who saw in the face of sick, the poor and the disenfranchised the face of Jesus, we too will live at this level of love for all beings. We are finally willing to lay down our lives for others as our faith takes on a more universal landscape.
I realize this is a very rough draft, but I’m thinking along these lines because, for the most part, the church does not provide room for people going through these same movements the disciples did. Do we allow people to challenge convention, become disillusioned, doubt, and even question God and the faith? Do we allow this even as Jesus did? Can we perhaps begin to see that these moments might actually be expressions of faith? Can we consider the possibility that someone abandoning their faith and leaving the church could actually be a potential development in their spirituality, a stage where they are being beckoned to abandon their child-like faith to move toward a more mature and adult faith? And can we allow people to linger in any of these movements without time limits? I think these are important questions to consider.