I just got off the phone with my Dad (pictured at left) and thought I should give a little shout out to all the Dads out there by saying a couple of words about mine. My Dad's faith is at the center of who he is. He's frequently said throughout his life that Christ is his only passion, and he really does mean that. Although there have been times in my life where I've wished he'd been passionate about a few other things, I can say that he raised me to have a thoroughgoing appreciation for the true nature of the Christian Life.
There was one point in the conversation today that reminded me of the gift he's given me in his total openness about his faith. He was talking about how so many people he meets in his work as a pastor want to have "the mountain top experience" in their faith. In other words, they want an adrenaline rush from their religion, because that would make it more real for them. That phrase brought back to mind a darkish point in my own life. I had gone to a Christian college that I hated... my spirit rebelled at the form of Christianity that was taught there and how intolerant the campus culture was to "errors of theology." I felt that not only was I a social outcast (which I had a fair amount of experience with and could tolerate) but that I was a spiritual outcast, too. That I was not a "Christian", not by the college's standards, anyway.
I was in my junior year and at a real low point. I had moved off campus and had started dating the cook at the little Italian restaurant where I was waitressing (most of the guys at the Christian college wouldn't even TALK to me, far less ask me out, so I figured I'd better take what was offered). The cook was an ex punk-rocker with the longest list of self-destructive behaviors I'd witnessed in a person up until that point, including drugs and alcohol. The relationship was an expression of my feelings of being "not Christian" because I could not bring myself to espouse the narrow view of Christianity that was being taught all around me. It wasn't the first time in my life that I'd felt rejected by Christian culture... in fact it had happened many different times previously in many different scenarios. I prayed about it a lot and wrote moody teenage poetry about it, but the relationship with this guy took things to a new level of despair.
Afraid of my own poor decision making, I drove 6 hours home to get some space and clear my head. I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, looking for a trail I hadn't taken before to get to a mountain top, ANY mountain top, where I could see a clear view and be alone in God's presence and just get clean and right again. In truth, I knew I didn't have the will to get out of the relationship with this guy, and my theology was weak enough at that point to believe God might leave me forever if I didn't.
So, found a trail, and slogged a long hour and a half to the top, feeling numb and very depressed and without any inspiration or any particular sense of hope. I was doing the mental version of holding my breath, picturing myself at the mountain top, looking down onto God's creation, breathing clean cool air and finally engaging in unobstructed communion with God.
I got to what seemed to be the top, but didn't see any clearing where I could look down. I wandered around for a few minutes until I realized it: there wasn't any view. I had picked perhaps the only mountain top for miles around that did not have an area cleared away for tourists to gaze down and feel Awed by the Miracle of Creation. Every conceivable Sittin' Rock was completely blocked by brushy low trees and bushes. I finally found a place where I could scramble up and peer through the tops of bushes, getting a sort of view of some of the sky and a little bit of valley, and I fought back tears of disappointment.
Which is when it hit me: This is it. This is MY particular Mountain Top Experience. This is my life. I couldn't expect God to reach down to me a la Michaelangelo and hit me with a bolt of revelation because I knew darn well He didn't work that way, and I didn't need Him to. In fact, I wouldn't WANT Him to. How crap would my daily life be if I only heard from God occasionally, and only in a bolt of lightning or crash of thunder? How useless would my day to day activities seem if my spiritual senses were not attuned to perceive the small, tiny workings of God's love and generosity in the precious gifts of the everyday? Whose Christianity was I trying to imitate, anyway? I don't need a sweeping view of the valley when I can see Him in every leaf and every flower and at work and school and everywhere else.
I started to laugh and felt a rush of comfort come through me. and then I started to sing, and I sang all the way down the mountain... big, loud, exuberant songs of praise, songs about God's gloriousness and beauty and generosity... creating my own dramatic landscape.
My Dad has struggled his whole life with wanting God to be closer, closer, to reveal His power more, more, and has learned that this is not how God works 99% of the time. His openness with that struggle taught me that God is not Cecil B. De Mille. Sure, He does dramatic, miraculous things sometimes, but far more often He whispers and nudges and sings to us throughout the day in a thousand different ways, a Lover in constant attendance, closer than our breath, and not likely to cheapen His Love by constant displays of extravagance. My God is the God of obscured views, who directs us away from the theater of our own imaginings to the reality of His Amazing Grace, which is far more grand than any mountain top we could ever imagine.
Thank you, Dad, for the gift of faith. and thank You, Heavenly Father, for ministering to us all in the everyday.