I sat in the front of my church, along with people I had come to know well and care for deeply. Bishop Gulick was presiding, and for this I was grateful because I had met him before when I sang for his granddaughter’s baptism. He had seemed authentically human and deeply kind, exuding the kind of radical compassion that has drawn me in to this Episcopalian faith community. I had friends present to encourage me, clergy I deeply respected who supported and challenged me, and a congregation filled with amazingly interesting and diverse people around me. This community was an amazing place, and I was deeply grateful to be a part of it. But, as I imagine the followers of Jesus who wandered in the garden felt that first Easter morning, I was also there filled with a sense of anticipation accented by twinges of fear, looking for something that I was not entirely sure I would recognize even if I found it.
It was after I settled in to another chapter of my life that I considered rejoining a faith community. I had moved from the mid-west to Virginia with my spouse and daughter, who was still a toddler at the time. We spent weekends driving around and getting situated in our new state of residence. We began to joke that we may as well start going to church, because everything was closed on Sunday mornings in the south. But, in all seriousness, there was a growing desire for community and belonging that extended beyond my immediate family and my work-place. I had heard good things about the Episcopal church in my neighborhood. It was relatively easy for me to open that door, considering the radically loving and open experiences I had encountered both working in, and singing in, this faith tradition over the years.
One Easter Sunday, I wandered skeptically into St. Thomas’ and stuck my toe into the water of this faith community. Soon, my body was in a pew. Then, my voice in the choir. My hands started serving in a ministry to homeless persons, and my feet hiked up a mountain at a parish retreat. I held my daughter’s hand as she joyfully ran to children’s time each week. Pretty soon my heart even began to trust again. But, I struggled immensely with the idea of confirmation. I passed on the invitation to attend faith formation classes several times. I felt a wall between myself and commitment to organized religion. I envied the people for whom it was easy, and I felt the weight of the baggage I carried (and I hadn’t yet come to realize my parting gifts). I had open and meaningful conversations with clergy about whether it was necessary…or helpful…to go through confirmation. I alternated between “what’s the big deal?” and feeling like, “this is a huge, big, massive deal.”
One spring, after being an active congregational participant for many years, I received yet another invitation to attend Explorer’s classes from one of my clergy. Maybe the time was right, or perhaps her persistent yet open-ended invitation spoke to my soul. This time, I said yes. During this time, I learned my own questions that I thought were so far out there, so reflective of my own baggage, were actually the same questions and struggles shared by many others. I began to realize that there was a still, small voice that had been with me all along my journey. I heard this voice in music, in myth, in childhood wonder, in acts of compassion and social justice, in my forgiveness of others and their forgiveness of me, in my own quest for belonging. One evening, in the midst of a contemplative, candlelit Compline, I realized this persistent and patient presence was God. And I knew that I never had, nor would I ever be, alone.
At my confirmation, I thought about that quiet realization. Not every faith journey has a dramatic moment of conversion. The presence of the divine may be felt more like the wind rustling the trees than the fire of a burning bush. The most joyful moment of the Christian faith…resurrection…was by all accounts a quiet resumption of life, an event of great mystery between human and divine. The first people to notice the risen Jesus were quiet, beloved mourners seeking solace in memory, making an early morning visit to his tomb. Even after the resurrection, there were still doubts amid belief, and uncertainty alongside miracles. Such is the journey of the faithful, and this journey can be filled with great joy and light if we walk with our minds and our eyes open.
Confirmation for me, like Easter, was a walk through a door held open. The invitation is extended, and the journey will continue whether we take that direction or another. Walking through the door to see what opportunities present on the other side is an act of faith. But it is an act of faith performed in community, where we are all learners and teachers, the weak and the strong, the faithful and the doubting.
And so, the journey of faith goes on for me. The small points of light illuminate my path and create waves of light rippling through those that I know all along this journey with me. It really is our human journey, with many paths and many turns that bring us into relationship with amazing people and serendipitous events encountered along the way. I have enjoyed taking time to write about many of them deliberately during this Lenten season, although there are also many more stories which will still find voice in this forum from time to time, I am sure.
I am grateful for my journey, for the persistent and loving presence of God, and for all the diverse community of the faithful in this world, and in my life.
May the first light of Easter illuminate your soul and sustain you on your own journey of faith.
Thank you, Sarah. It’s been an honor to walk with you and your writings through Lent. Sherry
Thank you so much, Sherry. Its been a truly transformative experience to write and reflect on these stories. Sarah