Recently I read the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It was certainly an unconventional Christian tale, but I enjoyed it. The opening chapter is called Beginnings: God on a dirt road walking toward me. In it he discusses an encounter with God one Christmas Eve and how the experience moved him past the thin concept of the "slot-machine God" into real and uncomfortable territory. He also describes the journey toward God as a slow one - God's just a speck in the distance, eventually a discernible figure; finally one gets close enough to see His face.
I found the book in a Lutheran Church's library, the same library where I had picked up a couple of great anthologies by Christian writers. I read it over several mornings while waiting to drop my little girl off at preschool. As soon as I read the subtitle of that first chapter, I had an image of myself from childhood running toward God on that dirt road, stumbling, tripping, sweating, eating dirt, picking up myself to run again. God knows I'm coming; I am so eager, and yet sometimes it feels like I go nowhere or I wake up after an uneasy doze and head in the wrong direction.
Yesterday I told my friend that I feel like I am building cubicles in my mind: here go the Catholic ideas; here the Protestant ones; and here the ones from my first spiritual mentor - my dad. It's a little uncomfortable, but all of them make up my unique spiritual territory.
As a child I was taught to seek God in what many would call "home church" but what my dad called "family convocation". We read the Bible together and discussed it and prayed together. I was baptized in the creek down the lane from our home by Dad. As a very young child, I knew I loved Jesus mightily, and I made up songs about Him as I skipped around the yard. When my family read together, I felt like He was right there in the room with us, a very real and warm presence.
We moved to Idaho when I was a teenager. All my dad's brothers are Protestant preachers. Dad headed adult Bible study at my Grandpa's church, and my Uncle Kip preached most Sundays. Most of my conversations about God still happened, as they always had - nearly every day, with my Dad, but I was grateful for the insight of so many others.
Then at 20 years of age, I fell in love with a newly baptized and confirmed Catholic man. I couldn't believe it when I found out he was Catholic. I had never really been Protestant; more than anything I was running on that dirt road toward God as Dan Hylton's daughter. But I had all the vague but virulent prejudices toward Catholics that most Protestants have.
Then I went to Mass with Matthew, my Catholic man, and I was astounded. Every Mass they repeated Christ's words from the Last Supper. I had never seen communion offered in such an authentic and holy way. In the Creed I heard and recited ideas from scripture and prophesy. The Our Father was prayed by the whole parish as they locked hands, and then a "Peace be with you," was said to all one's neighbors. I thought it beautiful.
But I held on to my Protestant pride for a good ten years before becoming confirmed last year, and I don't think it has left me completely yet. I am not a cradle Catholic. I am not a charismatic Protestant. I am some kind of hybrid spiritual creature.
When it seemed as if I was too much at war with myself, fractious cubicle dwellers taking up arms, I went to speak with a retired priest who sometimes says Mass at our parish. I sat down with him before the Palm Sunday liturgy and told him all about being baptized in a creek and our Bible-centered family convocations, about my Protestant family, about my mistakes in taking the Eucharist, about my ambiguous feelings toward confession and so on. He listened intently. Then he told me that he found it fascinating. He was almost envious of the diversity, because he was a cradle Catholic. He pointed out the advantages of the strong Biblical foundation that my dad had given his children, and that through every aspect of my faith formation, God was there.
"God was working through your Dad, through your Protestant family...and now through the Catholic Church. You bring it all with you...and He's not done. It's not like He has dropped you off at the grocery store and is saying, 'Okay, you're on your own!' Then He's off to pick up some new person. No, He's still working on you. There's more to come."
I found that comforting, so very, very comforting. And my joy, my confident stride, on that road toward God was restored.
But now I'm struggling with old doubts, old arguments between various ideas I've accumulated from different sources. I'm getting hung up on rules, wondering if I've skipped essential steps, asking if I have to pray a certain way instead of talking to God in sound bites every little bit throughout my day as I think of people and struggles, needs and hopes.
I need to get back to my Bible. I should remember the wise words Father Bill spoke to me on Palm Sunday, words I was still so grateful for when I ran to hug him the next week to wish him a Happy Easter. I want to live by the passage my dad so often quoted to his children to explain what God wants from all of us, the passage where God told Abraham to walk upright before Him and be sincere.
We are individuals. We walk or run toward God from different places on that dirt road, and He is undoubtedly walking toward us, reaching out through our neighbors, and illuminating guideposts along the way. We have to believe that we'll get there, be sincere in our efforts, no matter how many times we trip over stones and fall on our face along the way. We trust we will someday see His face distinctly and cry, "Abba, Father!"