I agreed. And soon regretted.
Words are so inadequate when trying to express the important things in our lives, aren’t they? I struggled to find the right words and got nowhere. Eventually, a picture eventually popped into my head.
A beach. And not just any beach — the one in Siesta Key, Fla.
Siesta Key a small island off Sarasota. The beach (that’s a photo of it above) is covered not with the usual grains of sand but granules of quartz washed up from the Gulf of Mexico. When the Reds moved their spring training to Sarasota, I did research on the beach and knew all about it before I arrived for the first time.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t really know the beach until I had sunk my toes into it. Stood there and let the wind blow through what’s left of my hair. Breathed the salty air. Let the cold waves wash over my feet, then hiss as they retreated into the gulf. Watched the sky turn incredible colors as the sun set.
You can know about something, but you don’t really know it until you experience it. A beach, childbirth, parenting — you can read all the books, but it’s not the same.
A pretty good analogy for faith.
For much of my life, faith had involved accepting concepts I’d been taught about God. Faith involved knowing about. In time, that became very unsatisfying. Something important was missing.
Plus, many things I’d been taught no longer made sense. Why should life be about saving my soul — isn’t that the height of self-absorption? Isn’t the world about more than just me? And what about this notion that God loves us unconditionally in one moment but is willing to torture us for eternity the next? If you knew an actual person like that, wouldn’t you decide that something is very wrong with them? You’d send them for a psyche evaluation.
One Christmas Eve, I was driving home from the butcher shop after picking up the Christmas ham. I stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change and saw a house with a manger scene on the front lawn. In that moment I thought: What if none of this is real? What if religion is just as plastic as the Jesus, Mary and Joseph over there? What if there is no God?
Have you ever found yourself stopped at that intersection?
A lot was spinning through my head for the next few weeks. Eventually, a different idea came to me: What if God exists but I’m the one who is missing something? What if my approach to God is all wrong?
So what do I do now? Maybe talk to God.
“OK, if you do exist,” I said, “show me. There’s the line about how if we seek, we will find. Well, I’m seeking. It’s up to you to help me find.”
In a sense, that was a first step onto the beach.
I started reading works by scholars who point out that many of those troublesome and odd ideas about God had developed over the centuries. For example, much of what we associate with Jesus wasn’t part of the original story. If he were here today, he would be really upset over much of what’s being done in his name. And the same applies to other religions, too. In some ways, they all lose their way.
OK, if not that, then what? Go re-read those words that are at the heart of it all.
Love one another. Be compassionate, for that‘s how God is. Forgive each other, even those whom you consider your enemy. Heal one another. Give food to anyone who is hungry, and do it without any sort of judgment. Do the same with the person who is thirsty. When you see someone by the side of the road who needs help, stop and help. And go the extra mile to help them, even though they’re a stranger.
Never judge anyone else. Reach out to those who are considered outcasts in your society and treat them as though they are the most important, not the least. Make sure everyone knows that in God’s family, there are no outcasts. Everyone is equally beloved. Try to make sure everyone is treated that way. Be passionate about peace.
And do all of this joyfully. Be grateful for all that you have. And share all that you have with whoever is in need.
Never forget that you are loved.
Those powerful, Spirit-filled words blew through me and touched me. I felt like I was like standing on a beach.
I no longer care or even think about heaven or hell. Whatever God wants to do with me, I’m cool with it. I don’t worry about finding the “right” answers anymore. Living with the questions and the mystery is enough — far more interesting, too.
After I’ve had my second cup of coffee in the morning and my brain is starting to function, I try to remember to say: “Thanks for another day. Show me who I can love today and how I can love them. And help me to do it because I’m not very good at it.”
I fall short all the time, but that no longer bothers me so much. There’s a line about how Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace over the years. He had to grow into that Spirit-filled person who spoke and embodied those powerful, life-changing words. And so do I. What matters is that you’re growing.
I still have those beach moments from time to time, thank God. There’s a lot more of the beach to get to know.
And it’s a public beach. Everyone is invited to sink their toes into the sand and let the wind blow through them.