26 July 2010

A Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

Two years ago I began to consider joining a church, and this in itself is proof of desperation. I could feel the depression creeping closer, and while I had my own spiritual beliefs, I found that I couldn’t find strength in them by myself. Life tends to smother me and I cope by staying busy; I fill my life with noise so I can’t hear the worries and pain. It works for a while, but eventually makes things worse by crowding out sensible things like relaxing, thinking and contemplation. So I thought perhaps joining a church would force me to embrace my own beliefs give them the structured time they deserved.

It was never a question of belief. I’ve always been aware of something more, though I may not always find the words to explain it. At best, I find it’s a bit like describing fate as a river. You don’t need to believe, to get where you are going. You can struggle down the shallow banks banging your legs against the hard rocks and struggling over obstacles, but if you have faith and trust in the world you can reach the centre of the river. There the deep water sweeps you quickly along to where you belong, with fewer obstacles to face. I’ve been in the centre of that river. Times in my life when it seemed like luck was on my side, where coincidences lined up to create incredulous experiences you wouldn’t believe if you saw them in a film or book. I desperately want back into the centre of the river, but I spend most of my life in the shallows.

Besides trying to step back in sync with the world, I also thought there were some practical advantages of church. First we wanted to start a family, and I felt it was important for children to grow up in a community. When I was young we were members of a sailing club, and the people we meet there became like grandparents to me. I wanted our kids to have that sense of belonging and being a part of something, and to learn the responsibilities that includes.

I also wanted to get out more. My friends from university have all moved away and I live 3,000 miles from my family. Time has made me very isolated and my illness makes it very difficult to meet new people. I’m lucky if I get out a couple of times a week. So I thought joining a church might help me mange my life better, build towards the family life I wanted and be an opportunity to make new friends.

It all sounds good...except for one rather big problem. I’m not a Christian. I can see the good people find in the Bible and Jesus, but to me they are hollow words with very little meaning. For a while I wondered if I could just sit quietly at the back, participating in the spirit of worship and ignoring the details, but unfortunately I’m a gobby thing. When I truly believe something completely, I can’t keep my mouth shut. All I’d need is to hear someone make a homophobic comment or harsh judgement and I’d find myself in hot water.

So I gave up the idea for several months, until one day I noticed a childhood friend, someone I used to sail with, was a Quaker. I was a rather surprised and had no idea what the Quakers believed, so I turned to Google to find out. In just a few weeks I’d bought a few books about Quakerism and attended my first meeting for worship. That was about eighteen months ago now. I’ve attended two meetings a week since, and love the silence of the meeting. I love that we are encourage to experience for ourselves rather than be told what to believe.

Now normally I wouldn’t write about religion, it seems a guaranteed way to offend someone, but last week was a notable event. Last week I decided to apply for membership in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I knew it was something I wanted to do. Specifically I knew it was something I wanted to do before we had a child, but how do you decide when is the right time? Quakerism is definitely something I'm still exploring and learning about, but I suspect it will always be that way.

In the end, I waited for the river to take me there. Last week I was approached by two different Friends on two different occasions, both asking me if I had thought about joining. I took that as a sign. Though I’m a bit apprehensive, I think this is the path I should follow. If I let the opportunity pass I think I could spend years struggling to decide when is the right time to act, all because I was to scared to swim into the river.