My good friend hasn't had the best year of her life. She has been bitterly disappointed by circumstances out of her control, and those circumstances still exist for her. She is one of the most gracious, thoughtful, charitable people I know, and it has been hard to see her usual sunny demeanor be clouded by these heavy burdens of worry.
While off of work during the week of New Year's, she started reading Eat, Pray, Love. I haven't read it but have been told to do so by people I know read really good books, and I recently bought it with my B & N Christmas gift card (thank you, sister). She gave me the overview of what it is about -- it's the true account of a female writer living a very secular, "normal" life who essentially checks out of that life to experience nothing but pleasure in Italy for several months, prayer and meditation in India for several months, then off to live with a medicine man for several months. My friend had only read as far as India, where the writer was learning how to be silent long enough to listen to God's response to her through meditation. My friend was fascinated, and even the idea that this otherwise "normal" woman could find a higher level of spirituality gave her a sense of peace that I know she's been really missing.
Then her vacation ended and the real world came crashing in around her -- she came in to work feeling a sense of comfort and hope, but by the end of the day left work feeling like, in her own words, the devil was in her heart. The frustrations and stressors of walking through the steps of her daily life stripped her of a connection with that sense of peace and protected-ness. This led to a conversation about actually living with faith and feeling close to God when minutiae and the weight of other people's problems seem to be the mortar in the wall that keeps us separate. This has been on my mind lately, too.
Over the past several months, I've been in a bit of conflict about what it takes to truly live your faith -- I tell myself, in the words of an amazing preacher, that everyone has to follow someone and I'm trying to follow Jesus. I talk to God most days, I have a job that provides a service and gives me glimpses of amazing love, grace and recovery, I worship regularly. But I live very much in the secular world -- I really want a Coach handbag, I drink too much, I try to avoid gossip but not that hard, I think I really need to color my hair. There are things that I know keep me from what my friend described as a higher level of spirituality.
Churches are changing -- they have to. The way we live is reflected in the way we want to experience and worship God (though surely the goal is for the two to be reversed). There is move away from traditional "church" where you wear your Sunday best and go to classes on Sunday mornings before worship and don't tell anyone your secrets for fear of what they'll think of you, and a move toward small groups and house churches and it really being about God in a shared community. I think I get this, though I love much of what is considered tradition. I'm okay with a video screen in the sanctuary, but I want a sanctuary.
In Eat, Pray, Love (at least as far as India), the writer needed to completely leave the life she was living to find this enlightenment that gave my friend such hope. I read blogs of people who are out among the marginalized, who are making mission trips and forgoing jobs that will bring them financial security, and I think maybe I should be doing that too. But just as there are parts of my church tradition I'm not ready to completely leave behind, there are parts of my life I'm not ready to leave behind, even though doing so may bring me a different understanding and level of connectedness to this person I'm trying to follow. I think the challenge is remembering God in the minutiae and the privilege of bearing some part of another person's burden as well as in the disappointment and feeling of inertia the comes from persistent problems that can't be solved.
My friend and I ended our conversation about this fairly heady topic by remembering that all things considered, our lives are an embarrassment of riches. While she has a faith tradition of her own and one she married into, she isn't one to usually talk of God until the ratio of bottles of wine to girl is at least 1:1. In her openness given all that I know is going on in her life, she reminded me that everyone is marginalized in some way at some time by their own heavy hearts, and that there is work to be done with and for those literally standing beside us. While that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep trying to let go of things, maybe this is where we Coach-loving "normal" girls are supposed to be.