Please excuse my short hiatus from the blog. I am working on a serious project that is an extension of Thirty by Thirty, which I will reveal on March 12th. Until then, the Project is taking much of my time and energy, so forgive me if my posts are fewer and shorter (for now). I’ll be back full force in March!
Today I’m disconcerted because I’m searching for an interfaith devotional…and can’t find one. With all the devotional books in the world, wouldn’t at least one contain daily inspirations from global faiths?
I am bothered by the lack of the book I’m looking for…but even moreso by my wavering resolve to continue looking.
Most troubling is my unbidden desire to simply give up the search and instead slip into Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest or Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God–the Christian daily devotionals I have read many times.
I own both of these books, and many more: my dog-eared, underlined copies with accompanying journals showcase my former devotion to daily Christian devotions. If you open these journals to any random page, you will find the desire of a teenage girl, for the very Spirit of the [Evangelical Christian version of the] Lord to descend upon her, reveal Himself to her, use her for his Glory.If you read them cover to cover, you would understand the purity of her heart, follow her unrelenting journey towards the God she knows so well and loves so very much. There are rarely questions, because her faith is absolute. She hears Him in the quiet of the night, in the chaotic hours of the day, and fully believes she is Called. She is Chosen. And her every step is guided by the Invisible hand of the Almighty.
Residing in the darkness of my Mom’s attic, the Rubbermaid tubs that hold these books and journals mirror my life before The Breaking… before I left behind the faith of my youth and, in the wake of that tidal wave of change, lost my identity, my purpose, and my God.
And this morning, as I seek a devotional book, I consider the gravity of my undertaking. The sheer monumental breadth of the task I have set before me: to rediscover my identity, my purpose, my calling. My God.
Yesterday I attended a wonderful Baha’i celebration during which I was asked to explain Thirty by Thirty, and I took questions. The most profound of which was, “What is your religion today?”
Try answering that in one sentence, in front of 150 people when you’re writing an entire book on the subject.
But, unbidden, the answer quickly flowed straight from my heart through my lips, drifting over the room.
“Today? Today I am a Seeker of Divine Love.”
I believe if I was to visit the the teenage girl I once was, the one who wrote so passionately asking God to use her, and tell her all the pain she would go through before being able to utter those words aloud to a crowd of strangers, she would look me straight in the eye and say: I promise to keep searching, no matter the cost. I promise not to give up, even if I do for a time. I promise I will be there, on that day, in that crowd, and tell them.
And she would be proud.
As I am.
Even if I can’t yet find the devotional I seek, or everything I desire to understand.
Friday night is date night, which usually means Trent and I can be found at Studio 35 (only the best historic, independent food-and alcohol-serving cinema!). After taking in a show and a few drinks, we call a taxi because A.) We are committed to obeying the law! Buzzed driving is Drunk Driving! (At least, according to the billboards). and B.) We prefer to avoid jail.
This means most Fridays around 11 pm, I can be found enjoying a fifteen-minute chat with a cab driver. I always make a point to nicely chat up cab drivers because A.) They have great stories hidden under those thick accents B.) I love great stories C.) They hold our lives in their driving little hands. (Ever wear a seat belt in a taxi? Didn’t think so. I, for one, prefer our lives to be held in happy hands!)
Being that I am, well, me, I can never resist inquiring about our driver’s religion after we’ve covered family and interesting stories. (I’m curious, OK? Especially after a few drinks. No buzzed driving remember?) Recently I’ve been fishing for the best Somalian mosque to attend, because Columbus has the second largest Somalian population in the US, and Islam is the religion of the vast majority.
So far, I’ve had one driver tell me, “You are going to hell…” because I’m not Muslim (In his defense, I did ask his opinion. And, he informed me nicely.) Another driver who had a Catholic mother and Muslim father said: “What I am you ask? Maybe…confused?”
Last Friday’s operator is my hands-down favorite though. Not only was he wearing a suit (I always wear suit for driving!), and supporting SEVEN children (Boys give me most trouble; girls, they easy!), but he was very forthcoming about his religious practices. This is the conversation, as close as I can recall.
So…if I may ask, are you Muslim? Yes. What is the best Somalian mosque to attend? It all same. Somali, Pakistani, any race… we not discriminate. Any mosque best place. I pray five times day. In Mosque if possible. What if you’re driving the cab when it’s time to pray? If I drive you to airport, I drop you off then go to close mosque to pray. What if you aren’t near a mosque? I pull over, pray in the cab. I can do this right here, in cab.See? What if you’re sleeping? I pray as soon I get up!
This is where it gets interesting.
The important thing not where pray, but pray in heart. That most important. Yes, I definitely agree with you. You pray, yes? You Christian? Yes.(I took the easy way out here and didn’t explain the whole Thirty by Thirty thing.) See you pray too, you pray in heart? Yes. It same. Very important to pray to God. I am Muslim which mean I honor all prophet and sacred book. Mohammad, Jesus, Qu’ran, Bible…I believe in all prophet and book. So you and me, we not so different. You pray, I pray. This all same. This important thing. So…you are Muslim, you pray to Allah, but it’s OK if I pray to Jesus? Yes, OK, all OK.
The gentleman is highly devout, very devoted to his faith. He prays five times a day! But yet…he holds his beliefs with his mind open to other faiths. I like him, I like him A LOT.
Post-payment and tip, we thanked him and I left the cab spiritually shell-shocked. Here I am: spending a year of my life in 30 thirty places of worship, looking for theology that fits…and I find it. On date night.IN A CAB.
Not from the pulpit: from the front seat. Not from a minister: from a foreign taxi driver. Not while sensitively journaling about my faith: while buzzed after a good film.
I doubt our driver will ever realize the impact he had on me in our short minutes together, but I’ll always remember he added a few sentences to my personal theology. And that was well-worth the cab fare.
My dear friend Nadine and I rushed into the downtown First Baptist, almost on time. We were greeted by Sister Marge, who looked us up and down and pronounced: Y’all…visitors….? This was not a question. Taking into account our skintone, we were clearly not regular members of this historically African-American Baptist church. (We were, in fact, two of only three caucasians in the building… Out of 300+). Still, she kindly smiled and pushed visitor cards and pens across the table, gesturing for us to fill them out.
[Dear readers, it is important you know that I HATE filling out info cards. I dislike spam in any form: whether it be mail, email, or phone. At the mall, I easily tell salespeople that No, I will not give you my phone number or email upon checkout, despite their annoyed looks. Unwelcome phone calls do not end until my name and number have been wiped out of all systems and a promise to Never call me again is elicited. Though occasional church communications do not necessarily fall under the spam category, they are suspect. (Especially because my filling out of a Jehovah's Witness form resulted in a surprise drop-in visit... the next day.) ]
While Nadine was happily filling in her life story, I was trying to wriggle out of the obligation. Can I take it to my seat, and return it later? An emphatic: No. (And when Sister Marge says No, with a look that says Don’t you challenge me, little lady, you do it.) So I sparingly wrote: Name: R.. Address/Phone/Email: None. Religion: Lutheran. (I’m not sure why I wrote this, because I’m not, nor have I ever been, Lutheran.)
Post-Visitor Card, we were directed to sit in the last row of the first section. We took our places, thoroughly enjoying the joyous atmosphere and uplifting music. Until we consulted the program, only to notice the next scheduled event: The Greeting of The Guests. Before we had a chance to consider what this might mean,the choir sat down and Sister Marge took her place at the microphone. Will Miss Nadine [last name] please rise? She rose. Welcome Nadine! Miss [last name]is Catholic! And belongs to [local] Catholic parish! She resides here in the city, and enjoys [activities]! Welcome again, Miss Nadine! Nadine beamed and waved excitedly to the crowd, eyes shining.
Sister Marge cleared her throat. Uh-oh. Only she and I knew about the trainwreck that was about to happen.
Will R. please stand up. R.? Gulp. I stood. What choice did I have? R. is Lutheran. Thank you and welcome, R. I waved, weakly. And sat, quickly.Ugh.
So, Reba, it wasn’t bad enough that we were clearly outsiders, you had to go and use your Initial instead of your name. An Initial! What were you thinking? My cheeks were flaming. I worried the large congregation would give us the cold shoulder, perhaps thinking I was making fun of their formal Welcoming. While occupying myself with worries (I am so bad at this visiting thing. I should totally quit, like, now. I’ve totally embarrassed myself!) the service marched right along to The Fellowship.
The Fellowship is a time when congregants greet (Warmly! With a Holy Hug!) one another for about fifteen minutes. This is no cold, perfunctory Peace be with you and also with you, limp-handshaked greeting time. No! This Fellowship? It’s a full-contact sport.
Watching people begin to enthusiastically Hell-o! Don’t you look fine this morning! to each other, Nadine and I sort of just stood there for a few beats… like we were waiting to be asked to dance and weren’t sure what to do in the meantime.We didn’t wait for long though! Within minutes we were swept into the enthusiastic embrace (literally) of the crowd-at-large. Never in my life have I given or received so many hugs and heartfelt welcomes!We’re so happy to have you, dear. Won’t y’all stay for the involvement fair after service? It’s a potluck! But don’t worry yourself if you didn’t bring anything…we’ve got it covered! Bless you, child, bless your sweet lil’ hearts for visiting! I made sure to clarify my first name was Rebecca, though everyone was nice enough not to mention it. Sister Marge wrapped me into one of the warmest hugs: So glad to have you,come back again! So I can only assume all was forgiven.
The moral of today’s story is this: If you should ever awaken on a Sunday morning feeling bad about yourself, walk (nay, run!) to the nearest African-Amercian Baptist Church. You are guaranteed to receive, at minimum, 100 hugs from little ladies wearing lovely hats, and strong handshakes from dapper, suited gentlemen. You will be Blessed within a centimeter of your existence…and I dare you to feel bad after all that good, old-fashioned, Baptist love.
To be continued…