I’ve been attending a Bible study lately. This seems to startle a lot of people, and I’m not sure why. Religiously speaking, I’m a mutt: half-Jewish, half-Christian. From the Jewish standpoint, the Jewish genes are on the wrong side. My Dad was the Jew (albeit an agnostic one). My mother’s father was technically Jewish as well, so I’m three quarters Jewish genetically but not Jewish at all by orthodox standards. It’s confusing to some. As a kid, I went to synagogue with my Grandmother semi-regularly. I went to Jewish nursery school, Jewish after-care (up until my Mom remarried and we moved to Michigan) and Jewish day camp every summer from age 4 to age 12. I did not go to Hebrew school, and never had a bat mitzvah. We celebrated Christmas and Chanukah. The best of both worlds. As a kid, it never seemed like a problem.
After the divorce and the move, I joined a Methodist choir and later a Methodist youth group. I went to Methodist church camp every summer I was in high school. When in Chicago, I’d still go to shul with Grandma. I guess I can understand why my background confuses people. Many along the way encouraged me to “pick a side” as if it were “Team Jesus” or “Team Abraham.” In college, tired of this attitude, I wore a cross and a Star of David around my neck. I really did have one foot in each camp, but that was mostly to mess with people. I had strong feelings and relationships on both sides… I didn’t understand why everyone demanded that I choose. Oddly, the “Jews for Jesus” freaked me out. I didn’t identify with them, either. Still don’t, really.
I always prayed and have always believed in God. My connection has varied, though. In early sobriety, when I needed it most, it was there. I often felt like I was being carried. Willpower has never worked for me for any length of time, so I don’t doubt that it’s God’s will that I’m sober. I’ve been sober for 25 years, and to be blunt I’d have to be an idiot to think that had anything to do with me. I got sober at 19 and stayed that way, which unfortunately isn’t that common. I believe with every fiber of my being that I am sober through God’s grace, pure and simple. What plans He has in store for me after that… well. I struggle a lot there.
Given all that, I was startled recently when one of my friends said she’d assumed I was an atheist. I’m certainly not inclined to shove my idea of spirituality down anyone else’s throat, but I didn’t realize my faith was that hidden, either. It isn’t intentional. Faith is something I struggle with in the best of times, and I haven’t had too many of those lately. It isn’t that my world needs to be perfect for me to believe. It’s more that I start feeling like I’m being punished somehow… like if I was walking the path I’m supposed to be on surely things wouldn’t be this difficult. I struggle with the notion of a God who wants me to suffer. I have trouble with Biblical history for similar reasons. The amount of suffering that goes on, unassuaged, concerns me. I am a very long way from taking every word of the Bible as literal fact (I am a joy to have in Bible study, as you can imagine), but it’s the way God gets portrayed that I find most disturbing. God as I understand Him needs to be better than that, or what’s the point? I won’t break down everything that troubles me along those lines, but that’s the general idea. The Greeks and Romans needed their gods to be humanlike: jealous, vengeful, demanding, etc. There’s a lot of that in the Bible as well (Old Testament and New). That’s not how I see God. Any being powerful enough to create the universe should be well beyond humanity’s petty emotions. Maybe it’s just me.
Faith for me has often felt blind, but not necessarily in the positive notion of utter faith and acceptance no matter what. I don’t believe blindly that everything will be fine, and my faith gets shaken up all the time. It’s far from perfect. Rather, faith for me is more like an elaborate game of Marco Polo. I’m blindfolded, and I’m stumbling around, listening for cues on which direction to head. By the way, I have absolutely no sense of direction and my hearing is somewhat messed up from standing next to the speakers at too many concerts, so you can imagine how well I play this particular game. I’m perpetually bruised from slamming into things, and I’ve been “it” so long I have spiritual vertigo.
There have been times in my life where I have sensed God’s will for me and have fallen into line accordingly. There has even been one time I heard God’s voice. (No, I wasn’t still drinking at the time, nor am I prone to audtory hallucinations.) None of this was recent. I’ve felt very disconnected from my spiritual center in recent years. Things have been very hard, and no amount of prayer seems to help. So I keep stumbling. I go to Bible study because history interests me and I believe the paths to faith vary. Maybe I’ll hear something I need to, or maybe not. Either way, I’m learning to open myself to others’ expressions of faith, and that’s not a bad thing, even if they don’t precisely mirror my own.
I’m tired of the blindfold, and tired of feeling lost. If I knew which direction to head, I’d go there. Unfortunately, I don’t. I believe, but belief alone isn’t accomplishing much. I need a clear sense of my own path, and failing that I’m just observing others on theirs, hoping something will rub off.