I (finally) sat down to write a blog post with the intention of it being a sort of goodbye post. I’ve been out of ideas for awhile (sorry!) and I’m facing the home stretch of my semester here with all the mixed feelings you expect to have leaving an adventure to head home.
This semester I have grown and changed in so many ways. With this blog, I’ve tried to keep an entertaining record of some of my experiences and the feelings and emotions that have come with. I’ve tried to show what is changing me. But what came out this time is a bit different from my last posts, and I think it shows one aspect of how I have grown.
I still plan to make at least final update to this blog, but I think it will be written some time this summer, after I’ve left France, to tell you all how it goes once everything is over. Classes just ended yesterday, and I’ll be heading back to the States on June 2nd, but first I have to get through the rest of my final exams! I’m looking forward to being in the same time zone as most of you. Until then—peace be with you and au revoir!
My most recent bout with doubt took place here in France, a place where I already feel a bit out of step. I was attending a Bible study led by French college students for their peers and the community, and the topic du jour was belief and doubt.
I’ve been a Christian my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with Sunday School friends outside of the sanctuary at St. Thomas after church while my parents talked with the other adults. I can still describe to you my “church outfits” that hung in the closet I shared with my sister. It took me awhile to understand that some people actually did other things on Sunday mornings, because to me Sunday was a wholly (pun intended) different day than Saturday.
Of course, that didn’t mean that I always wanted to go to church, or that I understood exactly what the Church was offering. In fact, it was when I tried to get out of going to church that I started to ask questions, and in fact I had so many questions I decided to study religion when I went to college. So doubt isn’t something that’s new to me; it’s something I’ve had to make peace with again and again.
This specific evening, at the Bible study, the speaker for the night was full of “proof” for those of us listening. (Personally I thought it was a bit overkill, since as far as I could tell the audience was largely already Christian and there by choice to learn more about the Bible, but no doubt I was likely missing a lot of the nuance of the arguments being made since this was all in French, a language in which I am by no means entirely proficient—yet.) However, I did grasp one argument the speaker made, one I’ve heard before: the idea that this world we live in is so amazing and unlikely as to point to the presence of a Creator.
I work as a Bible camp counselor during summers, and when I am looking up at a clear night sky, when my paddle breaks clear water ahead of my canoe, when I am drifting off to sleep to the sound of crickets and frogs and mosquitos…I thank God with all my heart for the world around me, and I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. For me, nature absolutely points to my God. This is one of the pillars of my faith. I take comfort in this refuge, this one sure place I can find clarity, and in this way I was able to agree wholeheartedly with the speaker that evening.
However, as a camp counselor, I’ve met kids and adults alike for which nature is no refuge at all. For them, there isn’t any inherent beauty in canoeing during a cold, damp, all-day drizzle, or in the thought of discovering creepy-crawlies in their shoes, or in having to make do with ranger boxes instead of indoor plumbing when nature calls. Plus, I completely understand the awe for intellectual and physical accomplishments in our world that are attributed to us as a modern society. And that is where I got stuck. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had my nature fix in a while, but I put myself in a doubter’s pair of shoes and I couldn’t take them off.
Anyway, I went home that night mad and wishing I could talk to somebody. And I did reach out, but I wasn’t able to put into words what I was feeling and the questions I’ve been asking (in any language) until now, when I feel like I’ve come to some sort of conclusion—I’ve found the kind-of answer I didn’t know I was looking for.
Unfortunately, this “kind-of answer” still isn’t the proof I and everybody else is looking for. This incredible, awe-inspiring world we live in is not irrefutable evidence that there is an omnipotent Deity who is looking over us—unless, unless, like me, that is where you discover the Creator God. And this realization is where I found relief in many aspects of my relationship with God.
I, like so many of my generation, struggle with what seems like sometimes arbitrary and occasionally outdated rules and restrictions that come with the idea of the “traditional Church.” Many of my peers that I interact with on a daily basis are atheist, agnostic, “spiritual” (but not religious), or undecided floaters for reasons similar to this. However, I, unlike many of my peers, have found God in the church congregations I’ve been involved with. “Traditional” worship on a regular basis with a home community is another place I can count on finding my God. But just because a Christ-oriented community proves to me the presence of God doesn’t mean that it does for other people, or that any such community has all the answers. And just because the scale and beauty of nature also proves to me the presence of God, doesn’t mean it’s any proof for others, either. It’s not.
It doesn’t have to be, and I don’t have to justify that to myself or to anybody else.
There isn’t any “perfect” or “only” source that will answer all your questions or get rid of your doubt. I can’t ask for proof from anybody else—in fact, that might lead me in the opposite direction that I want to go. Instead, I have to find God in my own life (and trust me, God is in a lot of places, if you’re looking) and ask this God, be it Creator God or God of Community, or whatever other aspect of God I find, for the answers to my questions.