Something that's been on my mind a lot lately is how much I resist doing things like everybody else. For example, Bible studies. (Sorry, going straight to religion. I realize for those of you readers who don't tend toward spiritual practices, maybe this is uncomfortable). Anyway, Bible studies. My mom and dad have both consistently been involved in one for about twenty years. I grew up watching the UPS truck roll into our driveway carrying boxes of weekly study lessons that Mom then stored away in our hallway closet for dispensing the following week. Sometimes, it seemed my mom's life was ordered around Bible study.
Maybe I was envious of her time? Maybe I thought she was obsessed, driven by this thing. I don't know. It just seemed like a lot of effort given to The Bible. What about effort given to everything else in life?
Anyway, about three weeks ago down here in Shreveport, I signed up for the same Bible study--it's an international organization--and I went to Shreveport's First Baptist Church on a Tuesday night, after work. AND THERE WERE SO MANY LADIES THERE. Probably 200. I'd thought about it ahead of time--from having gone to a few gatherings with my mom, back in Indiana--imagining that most of the ladies would be well-dressed, makeup-ed and looking very, very sweet. I never quite feel I fit in, in these types of environments. So I took extra clothes to work, changed in the bathroom and arrived at the church feeling somewhat less out-of-place. I felt less overwhelmed.
But still: no one knew each other. Or, no. It was that I didn't know anyone. And I didn't like the sense that all around the country there were women and men studying this exact same lesson, answering these exact same questions. It made me feel. . . as though I was led on a leash.
In my head I knew it was all for a good intention, a good purpose: to know Christ and God's love more deeply, to be in the Bible so that, throughout the week, we'd be filled with what Christians label Truth--with a capitalized T. I believe in this Truth. But I want to say it on my own, not have it pounded into me. (Take, for example, that I stand by the lowercase "h" in "him," as opposed to "Him." That is, for "God." Because simply, it's not grammatically correct. Sorry, I was an English major. Maybe that's a lame excuse).
I just have this strain of resistance. I can't quite get a good handle on it. But it's definitely within me, and I don't know sometimes whether it's right to fight it.
So last week I dabbled again in Henri J.M. Nouwen's Life of the Beloved, a book I mentioned in last week's blog post. I also continued reading The Road Back to You, a book about The Enneagram personality model, written by Christian authors. I didn't, however, read far enough to complete the reading for the class I've been attending about the book. And you know what? I went to the class and it was GREAT. I just sat there and listened. No preconceived--or, few--preconceived notions. I just listened.
There was a line in Life of the Beloved that struck me in particular. It applies to this notion of sitting with things in solitude (and especially in prayer):
[...] Although I have a tendency to say many things to God, the real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline. I am so afraid of being cursed, of hearing that I am no good or not good enough, that I quickly given in to the temptation to start talking and to keep talking in order to control my fears. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing--that demands real effort. (76)
. . . I realize that maybe, just maybe, I could learn something about God, or from God, by going to that Bible study. I could try and get over myself, my resistances, and attend the study weekly to sit with other women and listen to what they themselves have learned from God that week. I could do this. Maybe I should. But something tells me--maybe it's my own voice, my own independence--that I have the strength to sit with God on my own. To read good texts, to read his Truth, and other peoples' understanding and expression of truth, and find him within it all. I am looking for God. Going to a quiet place just in my home, where I can sit with him. I'm waiting for his peace, for the fullness of his love and acceptance. Of his forgiveness.
We're all on our own journeys. The Bible is a guide, yes. I'll use it. But I cannot tell you that you, reader, must also use it. That's not my job. I think my job is to focus on what I know to be good, and live as though I believe it. Maybe that's what we're all supposed to do. Not suggesting it, just . . . thinking it. I'll leave that thought there.
Well. I'm starting Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain today. Spoke with a friend recently who said that Merton later mentioned (after the book had been out for many years), that he wished it had never been published. But, hey, it's still out there. And I'm gonna see what it's got to offer.
All the best to you, readers! Many, many blessings. Live deeply, look upward.