I’ve written a couple of times about how my faith has changed since John my husband died and then my sisters suicide a year and half later but I’ve been reflecting on it recently. I find myself thinking about how the Lord kept it alive when really it was just embers at one point. Before I start I need to let you, who are reading now, know that I am going to mix metaphors and swop in and out of them repeatedly because I am talking about faith and my experience of it which is hard to describe with language (I know there’s a word for that but I cannot for the life of me think what it is.)
Faith for me since I became a Christian when I was 13 years old has been of utmost importance. It has been a living, breathing element to my make up. It has been the filter through which I have ran everything, every thought, every word, every decision, every instance really. So when John died it felt like I stopped breathing. I remember the exact moment, it was a few minutes after John had died, the room suddenly felt like a vacuum and my breath got taken away literally and figuratively. I sat shaking, outwardly and inwardly. Everything that I had known, loved and was sure of had gone. Even though I still believed in God, the part of my faith that was active, inside of my very core, had vanished. The part that was the eb and flow of me had ceased. And the struggle began. Before there was an inner dialogue of constant communication between me and the Lord about everything, big things, little things, worries, concerns, a few questions but not too many, but it was there always. Now there was nothing but silence, and the occasional few questions of how? and why? and what do I do now? The next time I took a breathe was at my theological college residentials, and I thanked God that even though it was small, it was something and I was grateful. Somehow faith was still alive albeit surviving on shallow breaths that came with long gaps in between them never knowing if there would be another.
In the 6 months before my sisters death I had been introduced by a college lecturer to ancient Christian Spirituality, and various teachings from people throughout the centuries and this allowed me to take in tiny miniscule breaths. I knew my pentecostal faith was well and truly over cause when I tried to interact with it, I felt as thought the shallow fleeting breath I was managing was being whisked away everytime. What’s curious about all this, which I have articulated recently, is how years ago I would have completely written off these people and writings. I had been taught, and yes I had actually been taught (I won’t name and shame) that anyone not of an evangelical faith was to be viewed with suspicion and disregarded as Christians. Especially Catholics! I even witness someone shout in a Catholic person’s face that they were not ‘saved’. The person was devastated and they were so kind and gentle, its heartbreaking to think of it now.) I don’t think I had even really heard of Eastern Orthodox, but they would have got lumbered in as well. Latterly I even threw in the Anglicans too, which was nonsense cause my faith was deeply rooted in Anglicanism as they had taught me the faith when I was young, and I knew there were genuine ‘spirit filled’ believers amongst them. (Can you hear the separating out of who was christian and who wasn’t in that last statement?) Nevertheless to my shame now, I genuinely didn’t listen to anyone who I felt didn’t ‘cut the mustard’ of “true faith”. How foolish I have been. How much I have missed out on! My therapist who I had began seeing from 3 months after John died was a practicing Catholic and when I first starting seeing her I did, to my regret now, disregard anything she said about faith, no really I did. I kind of tried not to talk about my faith at first with her as I thought ‘she wouldn’t understand cause she’s a catholic and not a Christian’ but that was impossible to do if I was going to be open and honest with her about everything. My faith was and is such a big part of me. She was always encouraging and warm when I spoke of my faith and my struggles, and when I asked she would tell me a little of her own faith. I began to see she did have a faith that I could recognise. So when I also discovered ancient Christian spirituality and how it helped me breath I was more than taken aback…. could it be that these people who I believed were not Christians, could actually be and have something very valuable to teach me about God? Dare I imagine they may hold some of the keys to breathing freely again? And if they did and can, who else might that I have disregarded?
After Paula had died and my faith took another battering my ‘breathing’ became shallow again. I didn’t know when or if the next breath was coming or where from. It was then I found myself led to a little church about a mile and half away from mine and John’s house. It was an Anglican church and not even that, it was what could be described ‘high’ Anglican (although I’m aware not everyone likes that language)… everything I had despised and disregarded years before. And then I learn that they were inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. The only way it could be further away from the beliefs I had held about non-evangelical people was if it had been catholic, and then I find out the Vicar is gay and from the Catholic tradition. Surely not, I thought…really? This place? Nevertheless they welcomed me and I went in and during one of the services in a moment of quiet I took a big deep breath for the first time since John had died. I felt God’s spirit again. I felt the closeness of Jesus. I felt like I had been put on a life support machine and that this was the way to help me breath on my own again.
Of course God was always going to use the things that I thought foolish to confound my perceived wisdom. And I am so glad Father, Son and Holy Spirit have smashed my judgements, opinions and general ignorance. The very people I had written off and disregarded have helped me beyond measure. It was their writing, their wisdom, their faith, their hope, their conversations, that the Holy Spirit is partnering with to get my faith breathing again. The amount I have learnt from ancient Christianity, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and LGBTQ+ Christians is immense. I tried to resist it at first but I could not, cause to do so would mean to be untrue to myself, my faith and the way I encounter the Lord.
Now, however, I’ve found the pendulum has swung the other way… now I find myself not trust Evangelicals. I have to fight myself to not disregard what they say. I have to remember that the very people I disregarded in the past are the very people God has enabled to help the relationship between Him and I. Also Evangelicals basically grew my faith, I wouldn’t have a faith is it wasn’t for the way God partnered with them in the first place to reach me and teach me. I can still tell by the way I talk about my faith how much is influenced from evangelicalism. And if I’m honest the whole thing makes me a little sad. I don’t want to be suspicious of Evangelicals, I really don’t. I just can’t hack the kind of faith that they have anymore, or the way they articulate things and say things (even though I still articulate and say somethings the same way!). I try to remember not too long ago I was one of them. One day may be in some way I might again. What am I now? Good question. Should I get into labelling myself and my faith? I’m not sure. I know my faith is richer and broader and more robust because of the people and different areas of faith I have included rather than excluded. So for now I’ll call myself an includer. If you have a faith I’ll include you in my thinking and my listening. After all, it is the people I excluded that God is enabling to help me have a living breathing faith once again and for that, I shall forever be grateful.