Monday, 16 February 2009

Happy Monday... and how I got from there to here.

Yesterday was a long day: teaching, Evensong, and then to the pub to collect my laundry from Sweetie (who took a load of it to his flat when the washing machine Chez Song packed up: dedication or what?).

Where had I got to? About a year ago.

About a year ago I was starting to really notice the effects of not being quite so depressed. My capacity to do work increased, first in fits and starts and then more dramatically. I set about getting my life in some semblance of order, although I didn't look at it that way at the time... I just tried to do what I could, one day at a time, as I always have. I started thinking and talking about spiritual issues a bit more, but didn't get very far with them.

Time passed, as it has the habit of doing, and I got as far as Pesach, and... well. I basically spent that first day of Passover crying, wishing I knew where I fit.

Things got a little easier after that. I started reading books, which I'll list another time. I started asking people questions about what I might look into that would fit with my schedule (I work on Sundays, and during the week my time belongs to finishing my degree). I found out a mentor and friend of mine was training to be ordained in the Church of England. I bought a hymnal, on a whim, and started getting back in touch with the form of worship which had always worked so well for me before: singing.

At the end of the summer I had some time off from teaching on Sundays, so I went to a few Unitarian services. These were useful. I went to a church service with a friend, the first Christian service I'd attended in eight years of living in London. Things picked up a bit in the autumn. I attended my friend's ordination as deacon, and an Evensong service in her new parish. I joined a choir that sings mostly liturgical music, albeit not as most of us today know it. I started attending poetry evenings at the Unitarian church. I read more, and more, and more. I found that I rather liked these Evensong services at my friend's new parish and have been to one nearly every month (despite the travel being tiresome: London is huge and it is a two hour door-to-door journey from my flat to her church). I started looking at liturgy, wanting to have structured daily prayer, and eventually settled on the online resources at Oremus and then, when that didn't work well for me (I think because of timezone issues), the offerings of the C of E website.

And that's about where I am now. Five weeks ago I went to Evensong at my friend's parish. Four weeks ago, on a rare Sunday off, I went to a morning service at a church affiliated with my place of study. The last three weeks running (including yesterday) I've gone to Evensong at a different parish church, near where I work... I won't be able to do it every week as it depends on my teaching schedule but I'll probably be able to get there two weeks in three, which isn't bad going.

A year ago, you would not have convinced me that I'd feel comfortable in a Christian church, let alone that I'd attend some sort of service for five weeks in a row. So what happened?

I can think of several factors.

One is very much on the level of personal relationships. I know several Christians of varying stripes, but some of them are truly inspiring. The mentor and friend I mentioned earlier is one example. I see how she lives, and I sense that at least some of it comes from her relationship with God, and I want to live that way if I can. I think her beliefs and mine differ in doctrinal details, but I have never known someone so relentlessly accepting, so fiercely compassionate. She isn't pushy about her faith, but she lives it in such a way that I can't ignore it. That's a very powerful thing, and I am blessed to have a handful of other friends who happen to be Christian who are similarly inspiring.

On a wider level, I feel drawn to corporate worship, to prayer and praise with other people, but I don't tend to be someone who fits into social groups easily. One of the problems in Judaism, for me, was that the community was small enough that simply moving to another part of the city could leave me fairly cut off. I suspect this will also be a problem with the Unitarians (who, in any case, are sometimes not theist enough for my taste). If I can find a myself theologically tolerable place among Christians, I'm less likely to have this problem, at least while I live in England: if it doesn't seem like a Christian country sometimes, try observing a different set of holidays for a while.

Of course, there's also the fact that I was raised as a family member of Christian clergy. That was a very difficult relationship for me for a number of reasons, but now that I've dealt with some of the trauma, I find some of the familiar patterns of worship from my childhood are comforting. Hymnody is perhaps the most important of these. I'm not likely to encounter the hymns I know and love anywhere other than Christianity (and Unitarian attempts at modifying the words have made me wince), and as I mentioned previously, I'm very comfortable singing things that I do not think I could bring myself to say.

I don't want to focus on what beliefs I hold in common with Christianity (and particularly Anglican theology, insofar as that can be defined; I'm not sure why I feel drawn to the C of E in particular but I suspect it is partly to do with personal relationships, and partly because nobody from that tradition has pushed me) so much that I ignore what are some very serious questions. If the Nicene Creed is the sufficient statement of faith then I've got a long way to go, and these things won't be forced. I have a fairly high requirement for things to make sense on an intellectual level and I suspect that means I'll have to figure things out first, or at least figure out a way that that they could conceivably be true, before getting to a point where I believe them. Ignoring my intellectual objections in the past has led me to be unhappy. I think I need an integrity between my beliefs, my understanding and my actions in order to move closer to God.

I don't want to focus only on those questions, those objections, either. I don't want to be resistant to Christianity out of pride, turning my back just because I don't want to do a U-turn and say, "okay, yeah, I think I get it now" about things I've never been able to relate to before and have insisted I can't relate to. I'm not interested in getting stuck or standing still.

So I'm interested in Christianity, but I'm interested in it as one way that I might be able to find meaningful worship and a community of broadly like-minded people. I need to make sense of it, not in a "this is the only way" sort of context, but at least on a level of possibilities. I want to find out if the story of the life of Christ can speak to me in a way it hasn't before. I want to find out if the Bible can inspire me on a level that it hasn't before, even though I think it's far from infallible. I'm open to the possibility that this might change my life, but I want to be careful that any of this makes me a more compassionate person, a more loving person, in accordance with the Summary of Law.

And I guess I'm blogging it because I think better when I can put things into words, and I like a bit of company when I'm on a journey.

1 comment:

it's margaret said...

Song, I'm never interested in answers, just good questions. --you got good questions!