We Believe. (part I)

August 27th, 2014

A psalm of belonging.

Church courtyard

After the sermon, before Holy Communion, Episcopalians stand up to recite the Nicene Creed, the profession of Christian faith. It begins with the words, “We believe,” followed by a list of things that the church agreed to agree on in the fourth century, and has managed to hang onto as a common denominator through hundreds of years of killing each other over everything else. For Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and most of the major Protestant denominations, the creed is the bottom line.

It’s a poetic, rhythmic litany, with trippy bits that sound like they were penned by a medieval Jim Morrison. Light from light, seen and unseen, and all that. And it lines up perfectly with my personal spiritual beliefs, all the way through those two opening words.

 “We believe.” 

As for everything after that, well, I just don’t know.

***

I tell people I’m a one-foot-in, one-foot-out kind of person when it comes to church. I’ve been doing the hokey pokey with religion as long as I’ve lived. My parents were Catholics in name. My grandparents were Catholics in everything. I was baptized Roman Catholic and went to Catholic school and mass week in, week out, until I graduated from high school, but religion was something I put on and took off like my navy blue uniform. It wasn’t part of my home life (though my mother was, and is, deeply spiritual), except as far as it was part of our cultural heritage. I still claim to be Catholic in that cultural sense, the way I call myself Canadian, though I chose to leave both a long time ago. “Catholic” says a lot about where I came from, but not much about who I am.

***

I wonder if my kids will feel that way about being Episcopalian when they are grown up. They were baptized in the Episcopal cathedral. They go to Episcopal youth groups during the school year, and Episcopal camp during the summer. Once every so many Sundays, I can bribe/threaten them all into coming to church, and they know the liturgy like a book of nursery rhymes. We stand up together after the sermon and they hear me recite the Nicene Creed.

“We believe…”

 Then we leave the liturgy behind, with the service programs and the paper lemonade cups, and go about our lives. Sometimes at home, but mostly in the car (because there is something about in-between spaces that invites truth), we talk about what we really believe, or sort of believe, or don’t believe at all. Often, we just wonder.

The kids know I believe in an historical Jesus, a teacher and wise man, who understood God uniquely. And that I believe in Christ, as shorthand for something that connects us to the source of our being and our highest becoming. But whether they are both the same, and where doctrines and creeds  fit into it, I have no idea, and no inclination to figure it out. I find most theology to be a weirdly forced and abstract enterprise–men building tiny boxes of logic that are supposed to contain boundless mystery. The metaphorical devil surely lives in a religion’s details.

I prefer Carl Jung’s proclamation of faith: All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take his existence on belief – I know that he exists.”

I wouldn’t dare say my own convictions are unshakable, only that I know what I’ve known: a loving power that’s greater than the box of my thinking, bigger than the boxes of religion. That doesn’t eliminate believing (or thinking) for me, either, because there are times that I need to remind myself what I’ve known until I know it again. But it simplifies my creed vastly. 

I believe. That’s all.

Until I get to church, where “I’ becomes “we.”

“We” is complicated.

***

The first Episcopal church I walked into, with my infant firstborn son in my arms, was my church home for nearly a decade. My two oldest sons went to the attached parochial school for primary grades. The baby spent a couple of years in daycare there, while I worked in the office as an assistant to one of the priests. I led study groups, and served as a lector. There was a blink of time when I thought I might become a priest myself. I had just gotten the Bishop’s sanction to begin the official discernment process when I learned I was pregnant (surprise!) with my third child. I daydreamed about seeing my children get married there. I pictured my own funeral there, the words of John 11 pealing out through a cloud of incense. I am the Resurrection and the Life.

I put my whole self in. Then I took my whole self out.


(To be continued.)

2 Responses to “We Believe. (part I)”

  1. Janice says:

    Thank you for this. Beautifully expressed and felt. I look forward to reading more.

  2. marilee pittman says:

    We (as in the “we” of the Nicene Creed) need to have this conversation more often.

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