I have more email accounts than I have fingers. I have a social network account with friends that number into the hundreds. I have several professional network accounts. I have a smart phone that lets me call, text, instant message, video chat, look up information on the web, and does just about everything except take out the trash. I have bookmarked internet web sites that tell me what the current preaching lectionary is, provide illustrations and background, and offer exegesis commentary on any and every scripture. Of course, everyone has access to more than 20 different scriptural translations on line, and I have the entire Bible downloaded on both my phone and my book reader. I am connected . . .
But does that mean my faith journey is any easier? Is it any more valid and any more meaningful?
We sometimes intellectualize faith and faith experiences. When we consider our faith journeys, it is important to know when study is necessary and when experience – pure and simple – is the most accurate and the most meaningful manifestation of our faith. It’s a fine line, but one that we must walk. Sometimes, we need to insist on academic rigor, Christian education and vigorous study. But sometimes we need to acknowledge that our small, finite, frail human existence requires that we stand in awe of the Creator and just appreciate who we are, where we are in our faith journey and what God has spread before us.
Our faith can grow as we study, reflect, consider and evidence academic endeavors. But we sometimes need to be open to our faith growing in open, experiential and visceral ways. Sometimes we just need to be open to God being there, and not much more. Sometimes we just need to experience our faith. The writer of Psalm 46 tells us that God calls out to us, saying, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Sometimes, we just need to let God be God.
It happened several years ago. I got a call from a total stranger. Turns out it was a girl I’d never met, about 20 years old, and she’d just delivered a baby that died just an hour or hour and a half after giving birth. Don’t know why, it was a complicated congenital defect. She told me that a friend of hers – a congregant of mine – told her that I could help her with a strange request. They weren’t going to have a funeral for this newborn of less than 90 minutes old, but she wanted to know if I would go to the funeral home, where the dead child was being prepared for cremation, and say something appropriate in the presence of the body of the child.
I agreed. I went to the small funeral home in southwestern Pennsylvania, and was ushered into the basement area where preparation of the bodies for viewing occurred. The funeral director left and I was alone in this cool, rather sterile and intensely quiet place.
On the stainless steel table was a tiny bundle, wrapped in some sort of white linen. Off to the side, presumably taken from the baby before wrapping in the white, was a tiny knitted pink baby blanket. I unwrapped the top of that tiny bundle just enough to see the face, then began to pray, to myself at first, then aloud. I wasn’t there long, and I’m not sure exactly what I prayed. I doubt that it was tremendous theology or profound linguistics.
But very few times have I felt as close to God as in that moment, and – in that moment – I felt God sharing with me how little I knew.
George W. Rizor, Jr. is Senior Minister at Landover Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Landover, Maryland and Professor of Psychology at Westwood College in Annandale, Virginia.