I cannot stop thinking about Jeffrey Thames and all the work we have the possibility of doing in this community. I am serious when I say that meeting was my hot coal, the thing that took the fire in my belly and refreshed it anew in a way that I haven’t felt since the senior high youth retreat at Christ United Methodist Church. I was 15 or 16 then, and Mikal Bowman was my best friend, the one I could safely say I loved more than myself. I was just as invested in her happiness as I was my own. She was the one to whom I could submit in my daily life without even realizing it was happening. This was the day that realization became reality, both in the chord between us and in my own chord with God.
They put us in groups of two, and blindfolded one… me. There was thick, thick twine called the “lifeline,” and it was a trust exercise to get us to submit to our partner’s direction. We could hold on to the “lifeline,” but we couldn’t see. It was the partner’s job to make sure we didn’t run into anything, to be our eyes in the darkness. Mikal (whom my dad affectionately called “Mikalwave”) and I had gone about 15 steps when I GOT IT. My enormous ego crumbled into the dirt and I fell against Myke, crying so hard I COULD NOT EVEN.
Maybe there’s not a God, and maybe there is. I took Logic as a math requirement at University of Houston, because apparently Logic using symbols and Algebra are the same thing (never in three lifetimes). We spent the first half of the semester proving God exists, and the second half of the semester disproving. No matter what we did, we couldn’t prove it either way.
THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT ENTIRELY.
Faith is, as Elaine Pagels so eloquently says, “beyond belief.” The question is why? My answer is that God is too big to comprehend, and will never be proven with fact. This is because we cannot know that anyone is listening when we pray, but we see its effects every day when we are willing to submit to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves; a deep chord, manhole covered in size that can only be accessed by looking inward.
You will know this feeling intimately if you are a musician or singer, because there are two factors at play. The first is that in either singing or playing, you are breathing all the way down, using your entire body to focus on every breath. The second is what happens when everyone in the room is taking those breaths together.
What would happen if everyone in a congregation saw God as individually breathing all the way down, and taking those breaths together? How would church politics change when everyone in the room is focusing on the chord that runs between them? How would church politics change when everyone in the room submits to it?
How would the American system of caring for “the least of these” change if we, as a country, were all breathing together?
Diane Syrcle has a great line about this, which she said in front of a treble choir (meaning it was all women), hands in a triangle around her uterus, that “singing is breathing all the way down into the power of the universe… because it is.” New birth, new life, new hope… the power of the universe so close we can touch it… literally. Catholics are onto something by praying to Mary, because it is praying to the power of birth… as tangible an evidence of faith as there is in this life.
If you can’t believe in a God, can you believe in a baby?
Can you submit to the power that comes with a tabula rasa, a clean slate that so many permutations of growth that it would take eons to calculate?
There is never a time when I feel more religious than Advent, because there we are, all waiting for the baby together. What kinds of growth will we do when we realize that we have the chance to be born again every single year? What kinds of ego will fall away? What kinds of sins will you release in the name of rebirth? How will you grow as that Holy Spirit touches a hot coal to your lips and burns away the old versions of you? What will you accomplish that you didn’t in the year before? How will you force yourself into a different reality? I often say that life is a series of learning to commit different sins rather than the same ones over and over. That is the very essence of acknowledging your humanness, that you cannot live life without flaws, but you can let go of them as you forgive yourself; they disappear into the ether as you grow.
The power of the universe comes into play when we’re all doing that very thing at the same time…. the way musicians breathe.
How you forgive yourself is the question with which we struggle- not once, but over and over and over. I cannot speak for you. For me, the answer is that feeling- the way my muscles stretch to accommodate so much more air. As Jeffrey would say, “when you breathe in, you take in the power of the universe.
Whether you believe it or not.