What does it mean to be a religious person? I would have defined it as someone who believes in God, goes to church, prays, maybe makes charitable contributions of time or money – something like that. And all those things probably do apply. There was a time that I would have qualified under that definition. The problem was I didn’t really feel like a religious person. I wasn’t sure what faith felt like. I can remember sitting in church looking around the room wondering if all those people were getting more out of the experience than I was. If there is a moment to pinpoint when my journey began, that would be the most concrete.
Despite my very minister filled family, there was a profound lack of knowledge on my part of even the basics of religion. I wanted to “get it”, whatever “it” was. I had no clue how to start my own journey of faith, so I did what I always do, I started studying. This will come as no shock to those who know me. I would be a professional student if I could afford to quit my day job. As a lover of history, I picked up a book that I was sure would answer all my questions. – A History of God, by Karen Armstrong (no need to start small!). It took me three years to finish it. But when I did I was hooked. I was a bone dry sponge soaking up everything I could. [By the way, if you haven’t read anything by Karen Armstrong I recommend ALL of it.]
A History of God didn’t answer all my questions. If anything it left me with more. But it opened up concepts and ways of looking at things that I had never considered before. Not because they are such unique concepts per se; it’s just that I had never been taught anything. I had never been challenged to really understand the subject of religion. In my younger years that made me shy away from the topic. I had no clue how to even have a mild discussion on the subject without feeling ignorant.
To my surprise and glee, I discovered that the more I studied the more connected I felt to God and this thing called faith. That’s when I realized that there isn’t one thing to “get” about whatever religion you practice. It’s a constant journey, a constant path that must be nurtured in each individual’s way. Sitting in church was not nourishment for me. It still isn’t, but it serves another very important purpose. Continually learning and reading is how I nurture my relationship with God.
The feelings of closeness to my faith and my God have waxed and waned during this time. The first time I doubted my new found faith I was fearful that I had lost something I thought I had figured out. Now I take it as an opportunity for deeper understanding. I welcome the challenging parts knowing that I will come out on the other side so much more enlightened. I also understand that it won’t be the last time that happens. That same philosophy applies to any obstacle (physical, emotional, work, family, etc.); it is something to be embraced and met head on because the faster I deal with it the faster I will be in a much better place.
Today I sit in church not because I feel I have to to be considered a good religious person and not because I expect to learn great things from the pulpit (although sometimes that does happen). I’m there because it’s a time for me to reflect on how I’ve impacted the world around me and what I can improve upon. And a time to remember to be incredibly thankful for what I have. I have gone from being a very skeptical almost cynical Christian to one that, still with a huge journey in front of her, has no doubt of her own faith. All thanks to a book.