A journey of evangelical faith: An introduction

This is the first post The Evolving Journey of Faith blog series.

In April I went to New York State to spend a few days on an organic farm that is associated with the Catholic Worker Movement. I went to work with and learn from the Quaker family that manages the farm.

I went to experience a working spiritual retreat.

It was a life-changing experience. Not because now that I'm home my daily life looks a whole lot different, though I do think the ideas I explored at the farm have the power to change my daily life quite drastically. For now, it was life-changing because my spirit was ready (hungry and thirsty, is another way to say it) to receive and learn from this family. And the time I spent there was like throwing a match on dry tinder.

The morning of my departure, Lorraine, the mother of the family who lives on the farm, asked if I would contribute a short summary of my experience on the farm for their next monthly newsletter. My guidelines for writing are to answer the questions why I came to the farm and what I learned and valued from my time there. She also wants a honest review of my experience to help guide other people who are interested in visiting and volunteering on the farm, as sometimes volunteers arrive at the farm ill-equipped for the conditions and in such cases it's awkward for everyone involved.

I am so pleased to write this for Lorraine and I am eager to do so. I have also received a lot of requests from friends, Instagram, and Facebook followers (where I posted photos from my experience) to tell more about my time at the farm. So I figured writing a summary of my farm experience would satisfy both Lorraine's newsletter request and the natural interest and curiosity of friends and blog readers.

When I got home from the farm I set out to write that summary.

My reasons for going to the farm, the "why", was multifaceted. I wanted to get out of the city. I wanted to experience the work of an organic farm. I wanted to get some serious dirt under my fingernails. I wanted a change from my life as wife, mother, homeschooler. I wanted an "experience".

This spring I've been reading The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day and I was fascinated by the Catholic Worker movement and its current expressions. There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to visit and volunteer at the farm, but chief among them was my desire to have a spiritual experience outside of my tradition but not so far outside my tradition as to be disorienting or inaccessible. Here's how I explained it to Joanna, in our back and forth email exchange, prior to my visit.

I am so excited to spend some time in a Christian Quaker community. I have been interested in the Quaker faith for years and I just want to experience a taste of it. My own faith tradition is Evangelical Christian (these are the church gatherings I am used to participating in) though how I interpret the Bible and understand my faith often aligns with progressive movements within the Christian tradition. I also draw on Catholic contemplative traditions in prayer and reflection. And I suppose I glean from Buddhists also in that I practice meditation and do my best at mindfulness. It’s a mixed bag but chiefly I identify as a follower of Christ, and what that looks like in my life changes as I grow and change as an individual.

A big part of my why for going was to have a "spiritual exchange" trip, so to speak, to learn from others.

Summary Interrupted...

When I got to this part of the mental process of summarizing my trip I realized it's time to write something else first. Something much more difficult than the why and what from my visit to St. Francis Farm. Something that has been sitting inside of me, and in draft documents, for years. Something I have hesitated to write through and publish because I barely have the words to describe it.

It's time to write the story of my evolving journey of faith.

I'm afraid to do this.

Afraid of being an inadequate writer. Afraid of my inability to articulate the ideas and truth most fundamental to my being (like how does one even do this?) And I'm afraid of rejection, of not belonging.

I am a loyal person, my Enneagram type 6 is described as a Loyalist, and my Myer's Briggs ESTJ is called The Guardian. I'm loyal to people. I'm loyal to ideas. I'm loyal to institutions. Sometimes I can be loyal beyond reason, and beyond where I feel the Spirit is calling me to live, move, and have my being. I can be loyal to my personal detriment. But this tendency has come with its own checks and balances. I'm a questioner and rational thought is very attractive to me. I'm firmly grounded in personal experience, which means my experience in something can change my loyalties and preconceived notions, what I used to hold as "true".

Maybe it's my loyalist tendencies that make me fear rejection of the group, that keep me quiet in certain circumstances, not to "keep the peace" but to keep my place of belonging and identity.

I have a deep, driving desire in my life to know where I belong, to find a place of belonging. And I am careful with what I say and do that might challenge the community, the family, the institutions to which I belong.

I wish I could write a book about the story of my faith, but I don’t have time to write a book. Also, I can barely extricate the words from my soul to write a blog post, my heart thumping in my chest, my mind sifting, seeking, searching for the right phrase, the right metaphor. I can't imagine going through this process for the entire length of a book.

A person's spiritual journey deserves a book-length exposition and narrative, in truth, it deserves a life-length exploration, because that is what it is.

And no matter how expertly we tell the story, how skilled we are as wordsmiths, you will never know what it's like to be me, and I will never know what it's like to be you. You will never know exactly what faith means to me, and I will never know exactly what faith means to you.

Words are very powerful. What we say and how we say it; what we write and how we write it, these shared expressions of thought have power in people's lives, because thought has power in people's lives.

I'm afraid my words will misrepresent me. I'm afraid you won't really know me. I'm afraid that you will really know me and you'll determine I don't belong.

There is this desire to write a long exposition of my experience, but I feel in part, that my desire to do so is defensive. If I explain my position with enough words you won't be able to judge me as stupid, ill-informed, naive, off-the-track. Basically, my well constructed words could be a defensive shield against criticism.

I have to get over myself in this regard.

I have a driving desire to be known, understood, and accepted but I have no need to convince anyone of any idea or truth. I feel called to share my experience, to be a witness of my human heart, but I am not here to convince you my position is true.

Faith is a mystery. And the desire to defend myself, at every turn, at every word, with explanations of how, why, and what feels like eviscerating the mystery of faith. Sure, I guess you can take it all apart, and inspect each piece and component individually, but what you're left with is a bloody mess.

For better or for worse, what I believe is not something I can necessarily distill into an all encompassing doctrine. I have a few foundational beliefs, probably a handful, on which I stand; maybe that is doctrine.

And yet, I completely understand the desire to define, to pin it down, to dig and probe, to draw lines and boundaries. I tend to be like that. But like a metaphor I recently heard, maybe from Richard Rohr, my experience is a living, breathing, growing faith, it's not a specimen of faith like a butterfly dead and pinned down in a curio cabinet.

I’m seeking after a living, breathing, heart beating experience with Divine reality and Truth. This is a living butterfly that is sometimes elusive and hard to catch and when you do catch it and hold it for a moment, it looks like one thing and then it opens its wings and it looks like another.

This is the journey of faith to me. Things are not always what they appear, they are way more beautiful and faceted than we can possibly imagine.

My faith is evolving. I won't be able to adequately explain the journey, the living, breathing, heart beating reality of the Spirit of God living in me but I've decided I'm done with being afraid of telling you about it.

Next post in this series: A childhood of belonging.

« Wholehearted writing (and depression on the Appalachian Trail)
A childhood of belonging »
  • Elizabeth

    Elizabeth on May 1, 2017, 2:07 p.m.

    Renee, I was so excited to read this post when it popped up in my email today. I feel myself at a similar place of "evolution" of faith. While I agree that it is very difficult, almost impossible, to convey to another person what is happening inside us, please know that you are not alone. Your blog post has given me a shot of courage. I'm so excited to read the rest of your story! Thank you


    • Renee

      Renee on May 1, 2017, 2:16 p.m.

      I have been gathering courage for many, many months. And my visit to the farm and my talks with Joanna provided a safe place to lay it all out. And I came back en-couraged (courage: to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart) to tell this story.


  • Marianna

    Marianna on May 1, 2017, 6:12 p.m.

    As someone who describes themselves as a Quaker (fascinated by silent worship) Catholic (drawn to contemplative practices) Universalist (the creed I most closely identify with)...when pushed, but only when pushed, to identify my faith I'm looking forward to hearing your story.


  • Jacinda

    Jacinda on May 1, 2017, 8:46 p.m.

    I am encouraged by your respect for complex, nuanced, not-easy-to-fit-into-a box spiritual journeys - that is my spiritual journey - just as I am a complex, nuanced and not-easy-to-fit-into-a-box being (& why I feel belonging here at your blog :-) Often I have envied the supposed belonging of people who were born into a faith tradition in which they seem deeply at home and yet the journey of unfolding and discovery is what I have needed to honour in myself. This lack of consistent spiritual community here on Earth although isolating at times has only drawn me deeper into a sense of belonging in my spiritual home. This is to say, I hear your need to belong - I've been consciously creating communities, building belonging (sometimes more successfully than others) all my life. I have come to understand that my sense of aloneness is part of the human condition and has only driven me on my journey towards God - however you may interpret that.


  • Renee

    Renee on May 1, 2017, 8:56 p.m.

    Jacinda, as you will read in my coming posts I was born into a faith tradition, in which I have felt a sense of belonging since childhood but...the journey of unfolding and discovery, questioning, doubting and re-defining has been the adult part of my faith journey.

    I love what you say about our aloneness as part of the human condition. I absolutely agree.


  • Kathy

    Kathy on May 2, 2017, 6:05 a.m.

    Rene, I'm so glad you're doing the hard work of delving into your spirituality through words and then sharing them. Vulnerability among Christians is refreshing! I, too, struggle with feeling like I belong, and mostly feel different from others in my own church. Before we moved from Texas, I asked my adult daughter on a day I felt particularly discouraged about "churchianity", " Can I be a Christian but just skip the going to church part?" My daughter said, "Welcome to my generation, Mom." I am an evangelical Christian, and for me it boils down to Christ follower. Of course, even being non-denominational carries constraints - shoulds and should nots, etc. , and I felt the burden of those pressures for many years, until one day my teenaged son REALLY wanted me to read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I read it, and I got it. I knew why my son wanted me to read it. Dostoevsky, a halfway crazy guy with a gambling problem set me free from American Biblebelt -imposed unspoken rules. What a different picture he paints, one in which a prostitute shows a murderer the gospel, the love of Christ. Certainly a prostitute does not, cannot, feel she belongs, but the truth is she belongs to Christ. Dostoevsky shows the raw beauty of spirituality. It is the power of God alone, and He loves me and the prostitute equally. I'm looking forward to reading your future posts, Renae!


    • Renee

      Renee on May 2, 2017, 11:33 a.m.

      I love the story of your son insisting you read Dostoevesky and how the gospel came alive for you in a new way while reading it. We've had our own sojourn in and out of church (small "c") and find ourselves in a church for now, but I hear your tension. Thank you for joining the conversation.


  • Tammy Edwards

    Tammy Edwards on May 7, 2017, noon

    i am looking forward to reading this series -- my spirit shares your journey -- i will pray that you continue to grow in strength and courage and wisdom in who our Great Almighty has created you to be!!!


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