Sniffen Packets

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Why believe?

This is a draft found in 2024 from 2020. I’m glad to have it out there, but it seems to refer to a “like that” to which I don’t have a referent.

Like a lot of people who end up with a belief like that, I got started with one—my mother brought me to church and to Sunday school, and my grandmother put a prayer rock on my bed (you can google for the corny poem), and my father showed me by his actions that he prayed about his problems and trusted God to see him through. And I went to confirmation class and memorized creeds and catechisms. I went off to college, and believed in theory, in an intellectual sense. I identified as a Christian, as a Lutheran. Intellectualism and identity are easy paths for someone like me. But that wouldn’t have brought me to write what I did today, and I think they skirt the foothills rather than attacking the central mountain.

What did make the difference? I guess two big forces:

Less important for the truth of this statement, but very important for how I cope with it, I read some books and I talked to people about them. “Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time” by Marcus Borg helped a lot in deconstructing the easy creedal theology of my childhood. Quite recently, Rowan Williams “The Lion’s World” helped lay out how the Narnia books can function as a fresh face of God for people raised in a Protestant context. Some good friends helped too, in conversation—not all of them Christian, and none with quite the same understanding as me, but helping make sense together of something bigger than we can see or directly understand. A bunch of that shapes the idea that Jesus was from God, and that when he spoke of the Kingdom of God, he didn’t mean a distant heaven we earn by obedience, but a way of being in this world available to us now, by our own inspired choices. Also from that, I understand God in a Lutheran context, but I have every reason to believe the same love and the same hope move in the hearts of my Jewish, Pagan, and Baha’i friends, and many billions of others as well.

More importantly for getting to the truth of it, I hit some hard spots in my life, and God was there for me. The Footsteps poem is sappy, but I expect it, or Amazing Grace, were written by people who’d shared that experience. God’s been there for me on a couple of my worst or hardest days. Sometimes indirectly—the college chaplain who was first to call when someone committed suicide outside my dorm window. Sometimes directly.

Let’s not go into detail here, but I lost some people, I hurt some people, and I felt very alone. I tried talking to a therapist, and a support group, and family. I observed in myself many of the stages of grief, wobbling a lot between bargaining and denial. In that grief, I called out to God, and I got an answer.

I used to identify with the Puddleglum speech from the Silver Chair. From memory, “I’m a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.” I don’t feel like I get to do that any more, no matter how much I like the drama of the speech. I asked God for help—in among a pile of prayers to help me forgive or get forgiven or turn back time or otherwise fix the problem I’d made, I asked for me and some folks who’d hurt each other to see each other the way God did—seeing all the faults and sins and mistakes, but loving us nonetheless. It seemed like that would be a good start to making amends and moving on. I got an answer. I don’t understand what happened. You could say it was a hallucination in a time of strong emotion. I wouldn’t, but one could. I saw a golden yellow trapezoid come out of the sky, the image shining bright as the sun as it grew closer, superimposed on my bedroom ceiling. It settled through my body and hung like a cloak. And I saw myself and the other folks involved as I’d asked for. I saw actions that had been taken as hurtful as the best that person could do, given who they were and what they had available. I saw all the possibilities one could hope for going forward, and all the limits and frailties, and the worthwhile core.

The experience was stunning. It only lasted a moment, but I can see it now with what feels like the same clarity. I cannot possibly convey it in words. In some ways, it seems very Jesus-like: It doesn’t give me anything to bargain with or to change the course of the grief I’m feeling. It gives me one thing I asked for, but not in a way that’s going to help the plans I had in mind. As I’ve moved forward, some days the fact of the intervention has mattered more—someone answered! And some days the content has mattered more. But on any of those, the sense of seeing myself and some others with full understanding of our flaws, but with absolute love, comes through.