When I was little I hated being asked “why” as much as I loved asking it. I delighted in exploring a new world every day, constantly trying to figure out why things came together as they did. I was certain there was a reason for everything…despite the fact I was singularly incapable of answering that question.
As I’ve played with this question, this why, for the past few weeks I’m realizing I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I first came to an Episcopal Church to test out my New Year’s resolution to see if I could “tolerate” Christians. After nearly seven years as an anti-Christian pagan the question I brought to the red doors was “what are you going to do with me, a misfit, a mistake, who doesn’t belong anywhere.”
The immediate answer was one of welcome and invitation. Yet these simple actions went beyond answering my initial question, they pulled me into the deepest question I’d discarded. A child I’d wondered “why the universe”. This was a question that I’d lost during my hasty flight from a religion that repeatedly torn me to shreds. “Why” was the question that the Episcopal Church both asked…and answered.
In the Episcopal Church I was confronted for the first time with a faith that is as complex as my journey. I found a church that both accepted me as I was and then challenged me to grow in ways I’m still trying to figure out. The Episcopal Church introduced me to mysteries that defy all reason, yet when shared call forth an answer from within my soul.
So I stayed. Beyond staying I joined the Episcopal Service Corps for a year, then the Lawrence House Service Corps. For two years in a row I moved across the country to join other young adults in a service oriented faith community. I didn’t stop to ask why. I simply had a sense of this being what needed to happen, and I went.
Arriving in South Hadley a few weeks ago I realized how uprooted I’d become. With all of my family and friends well beyond a reasonable journey away, a vague sense of what I’m supposed to doing for work and overwhelmed with the day to day discussions that building a community with five strangers entails I finally stopped to ask “why”.
The answer, a vague mix of God, faith, and it seemed like the right thing, triggered a massive internal argument. On the one had giving oneself over to a life of faith, an active ongoing discernment of where one’s gifts are most useful is considered a virtue, something to strive for. There was a part of me that longed to internally celebrate my new-found ability to hold onto God in the total uncertainty that my life has become. The other part, equally loud, reminded me I had no concrete reason to believe God is real. After all I’ve heard repeatedly that mental illness is just as likely explanation for the mystical experiences I’ve undergone.
So I was torn. On the one hand I find it impossible to believe that the fullness I experience at the Eucharist, the quiet voice that whispers I am loved, and the healing found in forgiveness is rooted in a delusion. On the other it seems completely fool-hardy to base my entire life on a God that is so irrational when compared with the reason I grew up with.
In the midst of this confusion, this internal struggle, I’ve clung to a ritual I grew into through St. Hilda’s House last year, the daily office. Days passed without connecting to the prayers, yet I made myself continue reciting them. Until one morning, prayerbook open, I found myself I drifting into thought, “why” bouncing around and around unanswered in my mind.
During that prayer I didn’t reach a resolution about the existence of God, or whether wandering from placement to placement based on faith is a good idea. What I heard was a gentle reminder that I wasn’t the only one praying the office that morning. A subtle nudge that even if I didn’t, couldn’t, believe the words I was praying, someone in this world at that exact moment had enough faith to share. I had a sense that it’s ok to be where I am, because even if I can only pray with my hands and mouth at this moment, someone else’s heart and soul is full of the belief that currently eludes me.
This is why we need the Episcopal Church. We need to be shown, time and time again, to the Why of the universe. We all need to be reminded that while much of Christianity feels foolish to our modern consumeristic world there is a deeper wisdom. We need to be surrounded by people who fully live into the complexities of faith and reality.
Why the Episcopal Church? I’m here because this community dared me to live into the question of Why in ways that I will spend a lifetime trying to comprehend. Our dedication to both tradition and creativity, integrity and growth, lives the Gospel in a way that reaches out in a form that no other tradition can. The Episcopal Church is a unique space where both ancient and modern voices join the conversation, each valued for what they are. This is certainly worth preserving.