After reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, I toyed with the idea of calling myself an atheist, because atheists, he explains, are not people who firmly believe there is no God. Rather, they simply live is if there isn't one. That could describe me. But so could a lot of watered down definitions of "Christian."
I was once a teenager and a young adult who was prematurely permitted to insert my hand into every aspect of the church's functioning. I taught children and teenagers, I ran programs, attended some sort of church function most days of the week. I was frequently called upon to give expression to my faith and I frequently complied.
At some point in my slow evolution into a functioning member of society, many of my own words came back to haunt me. The hollowness of my platitudes plagued me. Each phrase had been handed down to me and while I internalized them, believed them and tried to act upon them, I had not gained a single insight through experience, struggle or grief. My expressions of faith were no more real than a child playing dress-up, modeling the behavior of those around me.
I have slowly shed all of the aspects of faith that seem unreal to me. I know the Bible. Its verses still sing away in me and there are some that are very insightful. But I don't miss the charade of churchgoing one bit. I don't miss my awkward attempts at making mine a story that I don't fully believe, the pat responses, the myopia. I don't trust myself to approach Christian teachings honestly when they are so deeply embedded in a culture that strikes me as wrong and subversively demanding on my internal resources, that quietly prods me toward spiritual falsity. Perhaps it does not have this effect on everyone, but that is how it affects me. It silences the part of me that is capable of insight, the part of me that that is serene in the face of death, the part that understands and accepts my nothingness in the flux of time, the part capable of spontaneous joy.
But here is what I have left. Sometimes when I finish a grueling run and everything in me is spent and I am full of joy, I whisper a silent, "Thank you." And I mean it. I mean it from the bottom of my heart and I am thanking the Creator of all things that in that moment, I truly believe in. It is for no one but Him and it is rich and full and real. I know that this is very poor. But my spirit is poor and this is all it has. I may be weak, I may be poor and I may be misguided. But I am not false.
This is the point where my Christian teenage self would have said, "That's great that you've recognized your spiritual poverty, but now..." And the church urges us to recognize our poverty and then go fill ourselves with spiritual riches and sing God's praises. But I will always be poor. The widow who gave her last mite did not go home rich. She went home as poor as she always was. We are broken and it's ok to live that way. It's only in my poverty that I can see the true value of what little I do possess. I will take a thousand runs to feel that tiny moment of true gratitude. Because that is all I am capable of.
One of those Bible verses that still courses through me is the promise that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. I don't really even know what that means. But it sounds pretty good, and I know I am poor and I don't hope to be fixed. I feel grateful.