I was a sucker in junior high and high school for the “mountaintop experiences”. This is common for those of us growing up in an evangelical faith tradition. All people are invited to make a decision, to accept Jesus into our lives, to believe in His life, death and resurrection. Oftentimes this was accomplished publicly, in a camp or retreat setting, after time away from the real world and its conflicting messages. I cannot even express to you the number of times I raised my hand, or went forward (as they say), my hands clammy, heart pounding. Typically one does not need to be such an overachiever, except me, in my fear, requiring insurance of Heaven and Eternal Life.
Each camp or retreat provided fresh opportunity to confess, to re-dedicate through an altar call. And so I did, over and over and over again. I can only imagine God doing the grand eye roll: Here she goes again… In my desperate need for security, I consistently pled with God to forgive me, to accept me, to let me in, to spare me wrath and end times and judgment.
Hands raised, eyes closed, moving talks, frank disclosure…emotions raw, tears shed as we in all of our adolescent honesty shared hearts, failures, decisions for Jesus. These were the ingredients of the evenings around the bonfire, believing nothing and no one could remove the magic.
Eventually we’d have to leave these peaks and returned to the valleys of real life: school, practice, parents, siblings, homework, pressures. In a matter of days or weeks, the renewed commitments set aside, ignored, some forgotten or lost.
As a grownup, life happens in the valley. This just is, the responsibilities of raising three kids, maintaining and growing a marriage to withstand and outlast the rigamarole, caring for oneself, education, career, housework. The peaks are trickier to discern, no longer found in weekends away with cute boys and giggling girlfriends. I am required to open my eyes a little wider, to count the abundance in warm beds, coffee, friends, laughter, conversations, good meals. The peaks fit more into the life of routine, the life of demands and responsibilities. The highs come and they go, factored in, mostly planned, upon which my sanity and contentment depend.
Two weeks after Why Christian, the conference I referenced in Love Answers the Question, I am moved. While I didn’t answer any altar calls or sign a pledge sheet or raise my hand in the secret quiet, something shifted and dislodged. While I wouldn’t say I was on a mountain during the conference, I experienced something anew, a rebirth, a validation and confirmation. I was met in the valley, in my questions, in my wondering and wandering. I was met with a Me Too. I was met with hope for the Church, for the future of this faith I can’t shake.
Green shoots are jutting from dry, crumbling earth, a new thing rumbling from the depths, the margins. My wary and weary heart and hands being pulled up and out into this brave new, radiant space. A space that prefers to hold more questions than answers. Doubt and anger and real and raw coexist, breathing the same oxygen. A space that contains a transcendent beauty that fills the gaps these questions hold, that dissolves the cloud of anger I’ve carried like dirt enveloping Peanuts’ Pigpen.
This new place allows me to let go, or not. There is a collection of people giving me room to explore, to seek answers, to put my foot down and demand. There is grace to be our unique selves, imperfect and celebrated. There is room for human dignity, for seeing people as loved, created in God’s image. There is freedom to enter into the stories of the hurting, the oppressed, the criminal – instead of requiring them to enter into mine, or those of the church. There is life and light and hope, an invitation to be.
As my grip loosens and the fight slowly dissipates, I get to receive Love. I get to be soft, the hard edges of my frustration and cynicism smoothed by mercy and justice and authenticity. Receiving mercy for my own state, I then have the privilege of doling out the loaves and fishes, trusting in the miracle of grace.
This uncovering, this revealing the way it always was. The mountaintops aren’t needed, the valleys aren’t needed. This way of faith just IS. This seeing the broken, responding to the outcast, entering into the story of the oppressed, bringing relief to the prisoner, is Christianity.
Christianity is beautiful. Christianity is life-giving. Christianity is hope overflowing, pointing to the love of God and the person of Jesus.
It’s all there.
I’m entering in. I’m going for it. I want what I witnessed, what I experienced. This is not me trying to live on the high. This is finally seeing faith as it was designed…an invitation, a longing, an answering. Faith is my way of life, it is my lens, my filter. Faith in Jesus is the only thing that doesn’t fail. Faith in the Church, in it’s glorious and messy humanity, is what I’m choosing. This is not about me succeeding, or winning, or earning. This is the greatest gift I am given. I pray I live in the truth of it, and I own it.
And when I forget, because I will, all it takes is a gentle reminder, gazing to the reaching trees, participating in the miraculous of every day.