I’ve been thinking about faith a lot the last couple of days. I guess that’s appropriate – it’s still the Christmas period after all – but the main impetus behind this is still to arrive: Epiphany.
Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th and it’s a time of revelation. In the western church it’s used to commemorate the visit of the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus (the first time anyone from outside Israel acknowledged what was going on); interestingly the Eastern Orthodox church uses the day to remember the baptism of the adult Jesus in the river Jordan, which included a divine affirmation of Jesus’s mission. Two different events, both containing a revelation.
And I guess my revelation over the last couple of days is that, for someone who’s always been more arty and creative than, well, practical, I’ve got a pretty mechanistic approach to faith. It’s like there’s a password in the Bible, or in the history of Christianity, or in the middle of worship, and if I had just the right combination of facts and knowledge I could figure out that password, punch it into an operating system somewhere and bingo, the mysteries of faith are revealed.
Somewhere up there, John Wesley, founder of Methodism and therefore the guy who started my particular tradition, is shaking his head in horror. The whole point is that we encounter God through grace – He’s God, not The Da Vinci Code – but all the same I find that difficult. Not the concept, which is beautiful and yes, can make me cry, but the day-to-day application of it. The big, epic theology is great, but it doesn’t always feel helpful when you can’t find a parking space.
(Thinking about it, this could be why my writing project that never gets written would feature a character looking for redemption by walking the earth and doing a thousand good deeds – the point being that he’s misguided because you achieve redemption through grace, not actions, and the good deeds are something you do because it’s the right thing to do them. You don’t buy grace, it’s a gift.)
The information junkie side of my brain also has issues with it because it tends to get over-enthusiastic and takes over, when really it’s the relationship side of things that needs to be in the driving seat. Because if my religion is true, then it’s about God reaching out to humanity. It’s not about us discovering the cheat codes to the Divine. Christmas is all about this reaching out, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God entering into spacetime. It’s the main feature on the DVD, not some obscure Easter Egg you can only access by pressing the buttons in such a way that you need fourteen years practice in yoga.
I guess I’m just not good with mystery – I’m the sort of person who has that twitchy urge to take things apart to see how they work, to try the handle on the locked door, to press the big red button that says ‘Don’t Press’. For the most part I don’t mind that, because I see curiousity as a virtue, but there are some things you should never over-analyse, lest you kill them dead – love, friendship, jokes, joy, intimations of another world. God lives in those things, more than he lives in doctrine.
(Not, of course, that I have any problem with theologising, but it should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.)
So I guess that’s one of my aims for 2011 – to encounter faith differently, to see it as something more alive I guess, because while it’s always been a living thing, I haven’t always treated it as such. And I suppose that’s my little revelation, stumbling along the road to Epiphany.
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