I sit tucked into the corner of the black leather couch in the small room in the unassuming office building, arms crossed tight.
"I don't know how to...do...faith right now. I don't even know if I want to..do? have?...faith right now. I don't know what it even means anymore." I haltingly confess.
Our counselor gently smiles, my husband reaches for my hand.
It was our last meeting with our marriage counselor before leaving for Europe. She is, for all intents and purposes, a saint. She has composed herself with heroic non-judgement across the coffee table from us while we've stormed at one another, asked just the right questions and raised her eyebrows in expectant silence when she knows we haven't told the whole truth. She has a dry and slightly off-kilter sense of humor (my favorite) and literally began one session by saying, "So, we haven't talked about sex yet. How's that going?"
Of course, she was not surprised by my confession. My husband wasn't either; it was something we'd been talking about for months. It's natural, I suppose, that I ended up there. I'd watched my "super Christian" marriage nearly crumble, my Mother suddenly die, my father practically be broken by grief, the white church-goers of my country elect a racist pedophile, my own sanity dance just outside my grasp.
It's natural, I suppose, that I started asking questions and pushing against everything I'd ever known, because so much of it wasn't holding anymore. I had no use for watered-down theology. I needed something a little stronger, thankyouverymuch, preferably on the rocks in a cut glass tumbler.
There was tremendous guilt in that, too. My parents' Evangelical church had swarmed around us in the wake of my Mom's death, stuffing our freezer full of meals and mowing our grass and inviting us over for dinner and praying their hearts out for us. There was sincerity that I could not deny and was so grateful for. I felt ashamed and guilty for being frustrated with the Church when the Church was loving my little hurting family so deeply.
Yet there was also this deep-seated, thrumming sense of "I don't belong here anymore."
Eventually, I squarely extricated myself from the "Evangelical" box. This is not to say that I abandoned Jesus (although to some Evangelicals, leaving Evangelicalism equates to leaving Jesus), but merely that I decided I was done defining my faith in Jesus strictly by the terms of Evangelicalism...particularly white, patriarchal, western Evangelicalism.
My ideas about faith are sliding in and out of focus, and there's not much I know "for sure." It feels incredibly vulnerable, and frightening at times. It's essentially like the entire framework of my existence was kicked out from under me, and that's a terrifying sensation.
Yet I could not, with emotional and intellectual honesty, cling to my belief systems any longer.
This is known as deconstruction, apparently. There's a name for all of us out here in faith freefalls.
Our counselor tilts her chin and considers this for a moment. "I think," she says, "that God isn't beautiful to you right now." I nod. She goes on, "It will probably be helpful for you to see God in different places...to ask yourself how God looks beautiful in different cultures and communities and churches as you travel."
She encourages us to engage with books and theologies that make God beautiful, and rattles off a couple of authors...James Bryant Smith, Brennan Manning, Brené Brown (duh), Brian Zahnd, St. Francis of Assisi. She asks us to consider spiritual formation habits as we travel...things like silence, solitude, gratitude, physical exercise.
One of the most freeing things to come from her lips is this: "There is going to be a pendulum swing when you go from one narrative of God to another. You might overcorrect, and that's okay. That has to happen so that you will come back center."
I'm being given permission to wander.
I am, as Sarah Bessey says, making peace with an evolving faith.
It's the last big idea that our counselor imparts before we leave, and it buries itself deep in my mind.
They're known as the "transcendentals," and philosophers have been pondering them for basically ever. They're considered the properties of being, representative of science, art, and religion. If you want to give yourself an instant headache, go read through the Wikipedia page and try to wrap your mind around this sentence: "The transcendentals are not contingent upon cultural diversity, religious doctrine, or personal ideologies, but are the objective properties of all that exists."
Some Christian theologians have purported that truth, beauty, and goodness are the essence of God and the ultimate desires of man. This is a bit more of my lane. In his essay entitled “[CS] Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty,” Peter Kreeft says...
"For these are the only three things that we never got bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal properties of all reality.
All that exists is true, the proper object of the mind. All that exists is good, the proper object of the will. All that exists is beautiful, the proper object of the heart, or feelings, or desires, or sensibilities, or imagination.
We are head, hands, and heart. We respond to truth, goodness and beauty. We are this because we are images of God."
When you're deconstructing (or perhaps, restoring) your faith, the basics are everything.
Our counselor suggested I reverse-engineer a new narrative of God by looking for truth, beauty, and goodness every day.
So, I assigned myself this project for 2018...to daily enquire, "Where do I see truth? Where do I see beauty? Where do I see goodness?" While other parts of faith feel confusing and shaky and exhausting, this has become my transcendental liturgy. I don't know where exactly it will lead, or what "box" I'll end up back in, and I'm at peace with that. I'm in no rush to get this figured out.
If you want to follow along, check out my #TBGproject hashtag on Twitter.
For more thoughts on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, head here.
PS - I've seen Evangelicals, at best hurriedly attempt to silence with platitudes and book recommendations, and at worst mercilessly mock and belittle, those who ask questions and don't tow the theological line. As such, I'm not about to crack the lid on all my thoughts and feelings about faith for the whole world to take a shot at. In time, I will. For now, I'm slowly processing with my husband and a small circle of trusted friends, and that's enough.