Dear Hyde Park Family,
Lent is a time to acknowledge and embrace the wilderness experiences in our faith. It is possible that even right now, you are undergoing a period of dryness, doubt, or disbelief in your spiritual journey, a kind of wilderness of the soul.
If so, then today’s Midweek Message is for you.
In her book Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt, biblical scholar and clergy person Renita Weems chronicles such a period in her own life. With candor and courage, she shares her own story, one that is common to even the most seasoned and respected Christians.
Of particular help is her chapter “Fidelity,” in which she describes maintaining her spiritual practices, even through the most difficult moments of doubt and struggle:
“Odd, isn’t it? The routines that make the least sense when we are adrift prove to be the very things that keep us anchored and facing in the right direction. I was never tempted to leave the ministry when I felt adrift, but there were many times I dreaded the duties and rituals that make up a large part of my ministry. I prayed over the sick, held babies up to be blessed, and arranged flowers on the altar – and stood outside myself, watching myself perform these tasks, which were by then almost second nature, scowling and shaking my head at times, wondering what in the world was the sense of doing any of this.”
“Nevertheless, I never gave any thought to walking away.”
“This is my life, I reminded myself frequently; I don’t know any other way to live. It sounds like a coward’s comment. And perhaps it was and is. Change unnerves me as much as the next person. If I had my way, I would change only the things I want to change, and leave unchanged the things that suit me just fine. But labeling my failure to walk away from the church and ministry as fear is to miss the point. Attending church, preaching, officiating at the Communion table, and baptizing babies were precisely the things I had to do until belief returned.”
It’s that last line that caught my attention. We often think that behavior can only come from belief, never the other way around.
- If I don’t believe in the power of prayer, then I am unable to pray.
- If I have doubts about God’s existence, then I don’t have to read God’s words in scripture.
- If I believe that others have no business meddling in my religious affairs, then I don’t need to trust others and include them in my faith journey.
But while belief can shape behavior, the inverse can also be true. There are moments when the breath of God’s inspiration fills our lungs only when we practice the inhale and exhale of regular prayer and devotion. If we alter the pattern, or stop breathing altogether, we are more prone to fainting.
Practicing the faith, even when we don’t believe it, ensures that we will be ready when God is, at whatever moment God wants to spark a new insight or call us to a new reality.
We should remember that the keeping of spiritual practices is not so much about gaining their immediate benefits, like a “runner’s high” or a “sugar rush.” It’s less about gaining something for ourselves and more about fidelity to God. It reminds us that we are not our own, even when we have trouble believing there is anyone else out there. Surely and steadily, we have a revitalized relationship with a God who has been there all along.
At the end of the chapter, Dr. Weems writes:
“The inclination to walk away, give up, stop praying, stop believing, curse the winter, and withdraw cannot be denied. But I haven’t, so far. I have chosen to dig my heels in and stick with my routine until the mystery returns. Bless the babies. Bury the dead. Pour the wine. Break the bread. Say the benediction. I have become grateful for these daily acts of fidelity, which serve to keep me anchored and disciplined.”
Growing with you in grace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist