Last night at the fundraiser for the Servant Leadership School, I listened to “The Recovering Angels,” a black, ex-con, a capella quintet. Their singing was simply spectacular. It was Bible-gospel, and it was wonderful. The power of certain kinds of music to move me is becoming ever more obvious. Is it this illness that is opening me to an emotional life never before available.
All my life I have wanted to have a faith that I could count on. I stayed away from Christianity for almost twenty years because Christian beliefs made no sense to me. I equated faith with a central Christian belief that a personal relationship with God was possible. I’ve never experienced such a God and the idea of such a God doesn’t even make sense to me. I simply do not experience God as a person. To the extent that I have had an experience of God, it is beyond all words. It seems to me that the very nature of God, God’s essence, can’t be described or pinned down without artificially limiting that which cannot be limited. “God” includes creation, the moral universe, things that I know to be true even though I can’t rationally give reason for my knowledge; God includes mystery. And God is not limited by any of the above. They are pale attempts to get at what I actually have faith in. Since I came back to the church—through the portal of Church of the Saviour—I’ve continued to want the experience of God, the knowledge of God’s presence. And I’ve never felt it.
One of the members read his spiritual autobiography (a tradition within our church) at our members meeting today. As he read, I suddenly realized that I do have a faith that I can own, a faith that I’ve always known about but never named as faith in God. Before today, I’d always considered my friend’s faith so intimate that, in comparison, mine should hardly be considered “faith.” But this morning I realized his faith, although expressed in very different language, was not so different from mine.
Let me do my best to explain. Whatever else we know about God, it is that God is infinite and indescribable. So the question of what God is is irrelevant. Rather, the question is who God is has to do with what is the meaning of God in our world. And while I have no idea of what God is, I know that there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong; the universe is moral. Some things are absolutely true, regardless of tradition. I cannot prove the reality of that moral universe, of course. But I have a deep faith in it.
I know that ultimately other people are good. Given the incredible evil of the past century, that faith in others’ goodness cannot be defended logically. I believe in the power of love, the necessity to love one another as we love ourselves. I believe in the necessity and joy of self sacrifice. I know that I can’t gain my life without losing it. These are great gifts of faith that are not so much given by God as they are descriptions of God, definitions of God. So I have had a deep and abiding faith in God all along. I’ve just never named it as such. And since the word “God” is freighted with such baggage, it’s not a helpful word for me to use.
The question I have, without prejudice as to the answer, is whether this Alzheimer’s will bring me closer to this fundamental reality, closer to God.