How far is knowing from believing? What creates the shift and how much of a difference does it make?
All of those are swirling in me ever since I read a poignant story in a local church newsletter about the writer's grandmother. She was his model of faithfulness not because of her belief in God, but rather, because she knew God.
Immediate goose bumps told me there was deep truth here for me, nudging me back, way back, into early childhood. Also to a conversation I had last week with my mother and to a revelation I had in meeting for worship the Sunday before last.
The conversation and revelation focused on the concept of covenant. As my mother is recovering from a long hospital stay, there are questions I feel compelled to ask. This episode solidly forced me to recognize she doesn't have all the time in the world and, neither do I in seeking some answers.
"Tell me about the church we went to when we were younger?" I asked. I wanted to explore its evangelical roots because I have strayed in the opposite direction – or have I? You had to publicly give witness about your relationship with Jesus to become a member, she recalled. "Did you do that and was it hard?" I whipped out. Yes, she replied to both. "Well, dad, he didn't do it did he?" She surprised me with an affirmative answer. Of course, now I want to know what they both said back then. That's another conversation.
This one, however, evoked images of Sunday-school cookies (you know, the flower-shaped butter cookies slipped over a finger) Kool-Aid in Dixie Cups, cotton-ball lambs on pastel construction paper, an upper room in the old house next door where we played, had lessons and I wondered, looking out the window, what the grown-ups were doing in church. And memories of: the inner-city African-American choir that shook the chapel to its core, especially the striking tall woman with the flame-red hair; the visiting African women who came to our house to dinner when my twin sister and I regaled them with slick color photos of topless women in National Geographic ... much to my parents' horror I am certain; and the street-wise but smart Hispanic girl, Martha, from a brownstone in downtown Chicago who stayed with us periodically and with whom we visited in her noisy, congested, wonderful neighborhood. All, rich morsels.
These flashbacks have emerged as others, darker, have receded; specifically, the small colored-paper book with blank pages where we learned that white was pure as snow, red was Jesus' blood and black was our hearts full of sin. That's when I began to tune out and, also, where I have been stuck for awhile.
Until, in this conversation with my mother, I also remembered they held '"little church" in the basement with the thick wooden school chairs in a semi-circle gathered round the traditional portrait of Jesus with flowing hair and a peaceful, but very Caucasian, face. We were gently commanded to ask Jesus into our hearts. I did as I was told, not realizing until now that it worked. Jesus was in my heart even when I heard that mine was black with sin, which, of course, I did not believe.
He had been there all of the time. That's what clicked during worship recently when our minister talked about God's second covenant in sending Jesus.
That covenant formed in my heart years ago at that church in Glen Ellyn, Ill, the place I felt religiously wounded until I was forced to open up and face the facts of the past. This Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church is where I was taught to invite Jesus in.
That has been the gift of my life.
• What is my relationship with Jesus?
• How has that changed since childhood?
• What religious wounds do I harbor?
• What gifts are underneath if I look?
• How do I continue to invite Jesus into my heart?
my favorite religious
book as a kid
it was full of
no, it was
a rather simple
visiting a child
just like me
that was the truth
come to visit and
to this day
* If Jesus Came to My House by Joan Gale Thomas