What can we do about God, who makes and then
breaks every god-forsaken, beautiful day?
What can we do about all those graves
in the woods, in old pastures in small towns in
bellies of cities?
God’s heavy footsteps through the bracken through the
bog through the dark wood his breath like a swollen river
his switch, lopping the flowers, forgive me, Lord, how I
– Mary Oliver
* * *
What can I do about God, whose name has been on my lips and whose realness has been on my heart every waking day since I could speak, and walk, and know that this was my life – my belief?
What can I do about God, whose reality I’ve proclaimed to so many people?
What can I do about God, who has heard thousands of my prayers, but has mostly stayed silent?
What can I do about God, whose book – supposedly Him-breathed – is imperfect, paradoxical, confusing, and interpreted in a million different ways for a million different reasons?
What can I do about God, whose name has been breathed in both acts of mercy and acts of hate?
What can I do about God, whose ways are debated day in and day out, to no avail?
What can I do about God, a God I sometimes have trouble believing in?
* * *
This thing I call belief has always been abstract. When I was younger, my faith felt like something I needed to hold tightly to, as if I could lose it, even though it was never something that could physically be held at all. So I did all the things that helped me feel like I was keeping my faith close: read the Bible, prayed, sang praises choruses, memorized verses, all the while trying fervently to forget the world and focus my heart and mind on God. I lived in the world, breathing the world’s air, eating food the earth grew, talking with people who also lived here, but my real life was supposed to be something more.
Something invisible but powerful, some assurance that my life had meaning beyond my routine hum-drum (or even exciting) acts. I had Jesus in my heart, and that, somehow, was supposed to make me different. My treasures were not in the physical world; they were stored up in heaven.
Except that they weren’t.
Running barefoot through my grandparents’ yard with my brother and cousins.
My Thai friend Siripawn, who took me under her wing like the older sister I never had.
My MK friend Beth, who also knew what it meant to feel like a “powdered doughnut” – white American on the outside, Thai on the inside. (Forgive my race language – we were young teenagers and needed a metaphor.)
Standing still in the ocean under the never-ending sky.
Standing deep in a shadowy cave, a whole mountain looming over my head.
The smile on a Thai person’s face when I spoke their language to them (however accented and broken it was).
All-night Christmas caroling with my youth group, how we crammed into the 12 passenger van with laughter and weary eyes and the knowledge that we were safe together, always.
My toddler daughter pointing out the back window at our dogs and saying, “Dah!”
Nursing my son in the middle of the night, his chubby baby body against my skin.
* * *
Here is what I know:
The act of waking up my children every morning is as much my faith as some theological declaration is.
The act of reading a good book that helps me look at the world a little differently is as much my faith as reading the Bible is.
The act of stumbling across logs and through hidden cobwebs on a quiet forest trail is as much my faith as saying the Nicene Creed is.
The act of smiling at the grocery checkout lady is as much my faith as going to church is.
Because in those actions and interactions, I am saying that I believe in the gifts of this life – this physical, earthly life. That humans were made for each other, to create a sense of meaning for one another, and the ones that I’ve encountered have woven my life into something beautiful. That the physical world was given to us, and it is full of wonders that take my breath away, from the patch of ivy that will live forever (and keeps trying to eat away at my house’s brick!) to the gentle doe I came face-to-face with in the woods last week. The fingerprints of grace, creation, and love are all around us.
We are allowed to love the treasures of the world. It is those gifts that create us, knit us into more complex and lovely people, and enable us to give back.
For me, belief is no longer some abstract thing that is in danger of disappearing. Nor is it an astute statement of dogma, or a proclamation of understanding and certainty. Instead, it is my participation in the action of the world, knowing that every act sustains life, offers thanks, and proclaims wonder.