I have two previous posts titled Hubris One and Hubris Two. This one, Hubris Three, will make more sense, if the others are read first.
In Hubris One and Two I describe my spiritual journey during my twenties: of rejecting my childhood faith, a period of settling for pleasure in hedonism, an unsuccessful search for God in Religious Institutions, a search for purpose and meaning through working for civil rights, and then seeking a way to change hearts and minds, not just laws, by getting a degree in psychology, then recognizing that psychology also had serious limits, since most people don’t admit they need to change.
About this time, one of the couples in our social group began to talk and act strangely. Judy and Earl began to drink less, dance with each other, and finally to our horror, would mention Jesus Christ, as if he were someone they knew, not just an exclamation. Since they were our friends, most of us overlooked these aberrations and tried to not be too obvious, when we edged away from their inappropriate cocktail party conversations.
Soon however, they got our full attention, when they announced that Earl was giving up his job in his family’s company. And they were selling their home and expensive toys to work full time for a nondenominational, nonprofit organization called Campus Crusade for Christ.
We had to admit that was “putting your money where your mouth is!”
Most of us decided that it was temporary insanity. They’d get over it and we hoped they had set up trust funds for their children.
And I shrugged aside my feelings of envy of their believing in something enough to stake their whole life on it.
Judy’s sister was my best friend. She was much less assertive than Earl and Judy, but she finally shared with me that she had a new faith, a personal relationship with Christ, not just a church or religion. She couldn’t articulate it very well, but at this same time, her husband abandoned her and their two young daughters. Her strength through this devastating experience made it obvious, that whatever it was that she had discovered, it made a difference even in heartbreak.
In the middle of Hilde’s beginning over, Judy and a team of women from Campus Crusade came to town. Judy asked Hilde to host a Christian Coffee for her friends. I rallied our friends to help Hilde. I invited people saying, “I don’t know what a Christian Coffee is. I didn’t know our usual ones weren’t! But the talks will be short and the food will be fantastic. Come for Hilde’s sake.”
At the coffee, several women gave talks describing how they now had a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, since they had accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. I didn’t really understand what these words meant and I wasn’t very comfortable with the simplistic religious language. My ears perked up, however, when they mentioned freeing insights into their own behavior patterns, improved relationships with their families, and a greater concern for others outside their limited social and racial group.
Obviously, whatever this experience was, it made concrete differences in the quality of their lives. And it was free, no college tuition or counseling fees.
When they led us in saying a prayer asking Jesus to be our Savior and Lord and to make us into the people He wanted us to be, I balked, blocked by my usual need to understand things intellectually first.
As others were weeping and hugging one another, I started gathering up dishes. But one of the women cornered me, asking if I had said the prayer. I said, “No, I can’t. I don’t believe in God and I think Jesus was a wonderful person, but an unrealistic visionary that got himself crucified.”
This woman was not deterred. She responded immediately, “Well, why don’t you just say the prayer this way, Jesus, if there is a God, and you are who you claim to be, please be my Savior and Lord.”
That threw me for a loop. It seemed like a win-win proposition. If none of it was true, I had nothing to lose. And if it was true, I certainly didn’t want to miss out on it. So, I prayed the prayer with her and accepted her hugs and congratulations, and went back to my Martha activities.
As I washed Hilde’s lovely china by hand, I listened to everyone celebrating around me and wondered if the prayer would ever make any difference to me.
Suddenly, feelings of sheer joy overwhelmed me. Somehow, I knew in that moment with my whole mind, heart, and spirit, that God was real and that He loved me unconditionally, even when I was denying Him. Teachings from my Catholic childhood, readings in the Bible, ideas from the Protestant classes, and insights from my study of Psychology all came together like pieces of a puzzle finally forming a whole picture.
But the most important part was the total confidence I now had, that I was completely known and deeply loved, faults and all, no brownie points necessary to earn it. As I drove home, bursting with joy, I tried to think of an appropriate song or hymn to sing. Although lovely, the Latin hymns of my childhood didn’t really fit the moment. Finally the child’s song, Jesus Loves Me, began to bubble up and out of me. Tears and joy overflowed as I sang at the top of my voice. And I realized that these simple words expressed perfectly what I knew now, that I did not know before.
In the next two years our group of women from most of the major denominations and one member from the Jewish faith came together each week to read the Scriptures and share our experiences of God in our daily lives. Many had always been active in their churches, but had never experienced this kind of relationship with Christ and God. For some the new understanding and deeper realization of the love of God came quietly, but steadily. For others, like me, it came almost like an explosion. But, in all of us, the Spirit began to bring new self-honesty, openness, and greater concern for others. The more we grew in our awareness of God in our lives, the freer we became to forgive ourselves and others and to love in new ways.
Although some things changed quickly, others did not. And we began to see more clearly that growth really is a life-long process, that needs nourishment from many sources: prayer, Scripture, the wisdom of others who have walked before us, and even humanity’s growing knowledge of Psychology and Biology. And perhaps most important, the acceptance and support of each other in our journey together.
Part of my new awareness was how ridiculous it was that I had thought that because my limited human mind could not make sense of God, then of course, God couldn’t exist. What HUBRIS!!
Humbled, but filled with the love of God, I began to see God everywhere, to experience miracles large and small. It’s like putting on God glasses. Reading the Scriptures was like reading letters from God. Meaning simply poured off the pages.
And I wanted to share this new life with those I loved and with anyone God brought into my life.
Our group helped give another Christian Coffee and grew too large , so we divided into smaller sharing groups. We witnessed miracles where God seemed to intervene concretely in our lives. But then, we also learned to trust His love, when we humbly shared the pain and faith of one of our members dying with cancer.
Since our focus was on hearing God in the circumstances of our daily lives, we were able to hear through our different religious languages to our basic unity in the Spirit of God.
Each of us became more active in our own denominations and became involved in renewal movements within them.
Personally, in the forty-five years since that first “Christian Coffee,” I have found that simply belonging to a main stream denomination does not provide enough spiritual nurture without having a support group of those, who have also experienced a changed life through a personal relationship with Christ as Savior and Lord.
I have also found that ecumenical sharing groups have the best chance of avoiding making idols of denominations and empty religious observances. They seem to stay focused on growing in their personal relationships with Jesus as Lord better.
And I have learned that for diverse people saying the prayer accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord can play out very differently. We come into the circle of God’s love in different places with our unique histories and patterns and personalities. Don’t ever try to put God into a box, however wonderful it seems to you. God is bigger than any of our experiences, rituals, beliefs.
God meets us where we are and respects who we are, because He made us and knows us better than we do, never-the-less anyone else can.
a baptismal spectacular
opens our eyes.
“Come and See”
Tears of waterfalls
stirring lonely pools,
the reconciling Spirit
invites us gently.
Hidden river flowing
with silent, ageless strength
transforms and renews
our hearts of stone.
“Drink of me.”