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Domesticating God

My friend Caris Adel is a gifted storyteller and I am so excited to share her words with you today for our series on From Grape Juice to Red Wine. I so relate to her journey of finding a God who is not contained to a book. Do you? Read the piece first and then let me know.

Check out Caris’ blog if you have room in your life for a fierce woman writer who tackles the important issues of life and faith head on with enough grace to leave room for us to grow. I think her most challenging pieces are her monthly Spirit of the Poor installments.

grapejuiceforredwine

I thrive on learning.  Memorizing knowledge, thinking and over-thinking is how my brain runs.  So of course, I excelled as an evangelical.  I won gold stars and awards at VBS for memorizing verses.  At the Baptist summer camp I went to, every 40 verses memorized meant you could throw a pie at a counselor’s face.  And I threw a lot of pies over the years.

I wear the Bible like a second skin.  I’ve always known what it says, and what it means.  Eventually I knew it so well it bored me.  There was no magic to my faith anymore.  No mystery.  The faith I had was based on The Word.  It was the Romans Road and bullet-point sermons and try harder, and I knew all the answers.

I ended up not actually needing God for anything.  Saving me from hell was all Jesus was good for, and the Holy Spirit was supposed to help me with all that try harder stuff.  My faith had been reduced to knowing what I should do and doing it, so I would lead a morally correct (and self-righteous) life.

But one, that got boring, and two, didn’t really work.  There is no 5-step plan in the New Testament for dealing with addiction.  No 3-point sermon can heal childhood trauma.  No Proverbs-quoting book can create healthy parenting skills.

I needed something bigger and wider than the Bible.

It was pages 80-82 of Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle that gave me words for my experience and my longing.

“But the whole story of Jesus is confounding to the literal-minded.  It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practised believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called on to believe what to many people is impossible.  Instead of rejoicing in this glorious ‘impossible’ which gives meaning and dignity to your lives, we try to domesticate God, to make his mighty actions comprehensible to our finite minds.”

Domesticated God. 

Glorious Impossible.

In time, as I absorbed more of her non-fiction books, I came to see how the Episcopal tradition had informed her view of the world, which I found utterly compelling.  I became even more enamored when I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World.

I discovered there’s a God not contained to a book.  There are sermons that are essays, and somehow Jesus is present when you feel the wine burn its way down your throat.

There are so many strange, mystical, sacramental practices in the Episcopal Church, and people take them so seriously! (You should have seen my face when I learned about the separate drain for disposing of holy water.)

They take glorious impossibles seriously.  I can’t even wrap my mind around how captivating that is to me.  The Bible is still important, but is only part of it.  (And the verses are read in context.  Imagine that!)  They don’t try to reason out every last detail of faith.  There is room for magic to happen.

But apparently, the Episcopal Church isn’t crawling with L’Engles and Taylors.  I still, story of my (INFJ) life, feel like an odd duck a lot of the time. Especially when I try to merge my evangelical training and inquisitiveness with sacred mystery. 

Ok, there is holy water that has to be disposed of sacredly, but why, how?  So something happens when people are baptized, but what?  How?  Where are the proof-texted verses to back that up?  Believer’s baptism is so central to evangelical theology, what do you mean the church doesn’t have any books on infant baptism?

It’s much harder to sit in mystery and sacrament than I would have imagined.  I can see why it is so easy to domesticate God.  Why it’s so convenient to proof-text our way to a theology.  There is something so appealing about knowing the right answer and being done with it.

Maybe I’m just a ‘creative’ and need a little mysticism in my life, and the Episcopal Church is the only way I know how to find it.  But when I see heads bowing to the cross, and notice so many knees bent in prayer every Sunday, I can’t help but be aware of a holy awe that I never knew when I was focused on the answers. 

CarisProfile

Caris Adel is passionate about recognizing the image of God in everyone and is continually looking for ways to disrupt her status quo. After spending 32 years near the shores of Lake Michigan, she’s a recent transplant to the Tidewater region of Virginia, where she lives with her pacifist leanings in a military community. Raised in a primarily white environment, she now lives as a minority in her neighborhood, and after a lifetime spent in conservative evangelical churches, she is quickly falling in love with the Episcopal Church. Caris has been married for 12 years to her civil-engineer high school sweetheart, and they have 5 kids that she educates at home. She blogs here and tweets here

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9 Comments

  1. CatherineThiemann on June 7, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Lovely essay! As a former Episcopalian, I can answer the question about holy water, as well as consecrated wine and bread left over from communion. The church believes that God is mysteriously present in these elements. It would be wrong to put God in the sewer system or landfill, thus the separate drain — which generally goes into the church garden. If there are leftover crumbs or too much leftover bread for the backstage volunteers to consume, those crumbs get buried in the garden. Even the floor where communion is served is treated differently. In my church, it was the sacristans (volunteers like me) who cleaned that floor, so the janitor wouldn’t accidentally vacuum up a consecrated crumb.
    I loved the mystery of the Episcopal liturgy. I left that church because of a pastor who violated my boundaries. Since then I have come to understand that the “mystery” can make it easier for clergy to hoodwink and exploit vulnerable adults. So, hang onto some of that clarity and certainty from your Evangelical upbringing — it will serve you well.

  2. Kelsey Munger on June 9, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Beautiful piece. I can so relate to this sentence: “My faith had been reduced to knowing what I should do and doing it, so I would lead a morally correct (and self-righteous) life.”

  3. Tamara Rice on June 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    “They don’t try to reason out every last detail of faith. There is room for magic to happen.” Yes! One of the things I loved most about our Anglican church. I miss it. And I so relate to the shift. We should have a “growing up Baptist” blog series …

  4. Julie Canudo on June 20, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Love this: “I discovered there’s a God not contained to a book.”
    Caris is in my online art journal community!

  5. Julie Canudo on June 20, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Love this: “I discovered there’s a God not contained to a book.”
    Caris is in my online art journal community!

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