faith journey

How Open Doors Lead Us Back to God

Lit candles at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Image via Jeff Chu

Since I was born Baptist, I think I was taught in utero to be skeptical of all this Roman Catholic stuff. Of Mary. Of popes and princes. Of these incense-tainted, saintward prayers. Of the overreliance on the heritage that traces back to St. Peter (though of course we would never have called him St. Peter). At one point, our guide said, “Upon this rock, I build my church blah blah blah.” She meant no disrespect. Yet it was one of the funniest, most unwittingly perfect things she has said, pithily capturing our sometimes-cavalier attitude toward this church and, for some of us, institutional religion more broadly.

To Serve, We Must First Nourish Our Own Souls

Teenage girl enjoy with sunshine in wheat field. Via oksik/Shutterstock.

When you truly experience the love of God, there is nothing you won’t do for God. When you are truly thankful for salvation, no place is off limits to share the gospel. When you read Matthew 25, you are willing to dwell in any environment to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Our compassion compels us to love without conditions and work beyond the hours of Sunday morning.

We see the necessities of the people, so we respond with passion and purpose. However, we often push ourselves beyond measure and forget to allow God to nurture and nourish our own souls, so that we are able to pour out into others.

On Scripture: Pressing On Toward Higher Goals

Atop a mountain, Pavel Ilyukhin / Shutterstock.com
Atop a mountain, Pavel Ilyukhin / Shutterstock.com

I have often wondered about the trajectories my life has taken. I was raised a Latino Pentecostal in New York City but educated in a liberal arts tradition at Columbia University in Manhattan. I was exposed to evangelical and then liberal Protestant traditions in seminary and graduate school. My theological views have changed over the years. I have moved from Pentecostal to Baptist to Congregational (United Church of Christ) church traditions. 

Yet at each step of the way, I have been able to build on the solid foundations of the past in moving to new understandings for the new circumstances in my life. These life transitions never started from “scratch.” Some of these same tensions might have motivated Paul in considering, at least rhetorically, his past a “loss” in comparison to a new way of living and being in Philippians 3:4b-14.

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In these days, what are the sources of such life-altering “new knowledge?” There are many places for us to turn. Though I grew up without guns, I was surrounded by plenty of gun violence in my inner city neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In the aftermath of the tragic losses of our children and educators in Newtown, Conn., I wonder if we have gained any new knowledge. Apparently, we live in a country that values the freedom to own guns, even overly powerful ones like assault rifles. “Second Amendment rights” are invoked as if our founders could predict the kinds of weapons that would be available to regular Americans today, even with the “militia” (local police forces) that we also have available to us. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

SENSING HER spiritual life is lacking a certain oomph, Jana Riess tries an experiment: 12 spiritual practices in 12 months. Guided by the writings of folks such as Richard Foster, Phyllis Tickle, and Brother Lawrence, Riess attempts everything from centering prayer and fasting to lectio divina and welcoming the stranger. “We can’t really hear what God is saying, or let it sink into our souls and beings, until we have tried to do what God is saying,” she explains. “The practice precedes the belief, not the other way around.”

At least, that’s the theory. But as she chronicles in Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving my Neighbor (Paraclete Press), Riess’ crash course in spiritual discipline is punctuated by more flopping failure than soaring success. By the time her year is up, Riess concludes that her holy experiment was more “delusional” than ambitious.

Known to the Twitter community as “The Twible Lady” for tweeting the entire Bible in snarky, 140 character summaries (Proverbs 27: “As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other. Please note that this is only a metaphor. Do not carve your friends.”), Riess leavens the pages of Flunking Sainthood with the same delightful irreverence. Mincing no words, she calls St. Benedict “a crafty old coot” and St. Thérèse of Lisieux a “first-class diva.” She swears during silent meditation. And when trying to find God in the daily tasks of life, such as cleaning, Riess considers whether “a quicker route to genuine religious experience would be to snort the spray cleaner and get high on fumes.”

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