Every Tuesday I get together with a few good friends and we relate scriptural ideas to motherhood and being a woman. Every Thursday I attend an interfaith bible study, a different group of eight women each year. Every Sunday I oversee the teaching of seventy-five children. Every day I teach my children to read from the scriptures and pray.
My faith life is filled with people. But a faith journey is one you take alone.
I don't know what made me come to this realization this morning. The only difference I suppose was an extra ten minutes. I was already in the car and so I headed up to the bible study early. Someone was already in the child care room, which is unusual. Juliette ran on in without a second thought, also unusual. My table was empty. I sat down, opened my bible to Hebrews 11, and prayed each verse aloud.
Father, help me understand the power of faith, by which you framed the worlds. Help me see that if faith can create this world, it can work the smaller things in my life.
Verse by verse. A Hall of Faith.
Give me the faith I need to go out into the wilderness to follow where you call me, even when I don't know where I'm going. Keep the blessing of my inheritance in the front of my mind, so that I know toward what I am travelling.
Verse by verse, 40 verses. (40. A significant number in the Hebrew culture A number that signifies a large number, approximate number, like umpteen.) Umpteen verses on examples of faith. Lives of the past, life circumstances. Nothing easy, only trials that seem soul crushing to endure. Except that it had the opposite effect: it didn't crush their faith, but fortified it.
Remind me of the better country, the Heavenly city, prepared for me. Remind me that my divine nature is stronger and older than my physical nature.
I come upon a list, a list that signifies the writer must move along, cannot touch on every single example of firmly built faith given us in the pages of the Old Testament. I can feel the passion and faith bleeding from the ink on my page. Here is a writer, a man, whose desire to build other's faith comes across as near desperation. "Please!" he begs. "You must have faith! If nothing else you must have faith!"
stopped the mouths of lions
quenched the violence of fire
escaped the edge of the sword
out of weakness made strong
valiant in fight
cruelty and scourgings
bonds and imprisonment
stoned and beaten
destitute, afflicted, tormented
And what is my fight compared to these? I pause and struggle to find personal meaning in such trials. Instead, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude.
And suddenly buoyed.
The apostle Paul's fervour is catching.
I catch my breath.
My friends have arrived. I have been moved and they sit down with their books and coffees as though the Spirit had not just breathed over the table. I look around at these women: we have studied, learned, shared, cried, and prayed together. We have been vulnerable because of the newness of friendship. We have journeyed together in friendship, and yet I come to realize that that is not the same as a journey of faith.
There are not earthly words to describe my understanding, my faith. At one time I would have chalked it up to an inability to gather the words, but now I am more likely to attribute it to the touching of heavenly and earthly realms. It is simply a knowing.
I don't think it is possible to relate one's faith completely. There are too many facets, too many angles, too many emotions involved. So many, in fact, that nothing is linear. It is the culmination of it all, doubts included. It is a breath, a cloud, something settling over you, seeping through your pores and simply becoming you. It cannot be expressed, hence the loneliness of the experience. Even for all the words that Paul penned, I can feel the desperation of inadequacy. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to inspire someone to take a step in a similar direction.
While I wander in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves, build my faith, so that even if I don't see the blessing right now, I can know that God has something better in store.