Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Advent discussion: The Big-Hard-Questions

This Advent, I would like to do something special with you on this blog.

I want to spend time here considering a few of the big-hard-to-get-your-brain-around questions about God, prayer and life itself. Those are huge topics, and writing on these can easily fill a library.

So I propose going slowly, circling around a bit, talking a few steps at a time, and seeing where we end up.

Think of this as walking a labyrinth.

Every few days this Advent, I will write something on one of these topics. I hope you will walk with me, and lend me your wisdom, your experience, and maybe share some of your spiritual practices. What works for you? Please add a comment or two.

Some of what we usually do here on this blog will continue, like the Monday Funnies. But let’s spend Advent being a little more intentional, a little more aware of our faith journey. Let’s ask those big-hairy-questions, maybe acknowledge a few doubts, examine our prayers, and share a few moments when we feel the presence of the holy.

I am partly inspired to do this by my friend Ilana DeBare, who recently began a journey to her Bat Mitzvah as a middle-aged adult. She noted recently that although she was raised Jewish, and lived for a time in Israel, she had not explored very deeply her Jewish religion.

I’ve known Ilana for many years, from when we worked to together as reporters in The Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau. Ilana moved to The San Francisco Chronicle, got married, has a wonderful daughter, helped start a girls school (The Julia Morgan School in Oakland), wrote a book or two, and left The Chronicle along with everyone else I know who once worked there.

Ilana decided to study with a rabbi and work her way to a Bat Mitzvah in February 2011. I tell you all this because Ilana also started a blog, inviting her friends to walk with her on her journey. You can follow her journey by clicking HERE; I would ask that readers of this blog be respectful when reading hers.

She has begun at the ground level, always a good place to start, by asking basic hard questions about faith, God and prayer. I’ve been intrigued by her questions and by the answers from her friends. I think it a good Advent exercise for us to go into these questions, too, on this blog. Please do not see this as competing, but more as a parallel path through the labyrinth. I am not looking for doctrinal arguments or turgid theological treatises, but something less loaded, more simple, and closer to who each of us are created to be. There are no extra points for being "right," and I am not looking for sameness.

I begin this journey with an observation made by Ilana: “I don’t believe there is an old white man with a long white beard sitting on a throne up in the clouds” who is deciding who gets sick and who gets well, which prayers to answer, and which to ignore.

I don’t believe that either.

But that begs the question: What do I believe? About God? About prayer? About life and death? Let’s walk with those questions; walk with them through the labyrinth for a time.

Our answers may not be perfect, and my answers may not be your answers, but maybe by walking together we will find ourselves at the center somewhere looking at the face of God.

I want start our walk by considering prayer. Tomorrow I will share with you a glimpse of my own prayer life, not as a recipe guide, but simply as an offering of my own experience with prayer and what works for me.

I hope to see you back here again.

The labyrinth design is from Chartres Cathedral, and the design has been duplicated all over the world. The photo shows people in a yoga class on the labyrinth (same design) at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

1 comment:

Ilana DeBare said...

Jim, what a great idea! The use of Advent for this kind of journey into deep questions together. And the labyrinth as a metaphor for it.

(And of course mentioning my blog!) :-)

Your use of Advent for ongoing discussion reminded me of another inspiring use of a monthly cycle that I read about in the Science section of the New York Times today.

There's a new book called "29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your life" by a woman named Cami Walker who has multiple sclerosis. She had been mired in pain and depression until a holistic health educator suggested that she give a gift a day for 29 days -- not Nordstrom-type gifts, but things like making supportive phone calls or saving a piece of chocolate cake for her husband.

Amazingly, her spirits improved but so did her health and her dependence on pain meds.

"My first reaction was that I thought it was an insane idea," Ms Walker said in the Times. "But it has given me a more positive outlook on life. It's about stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else.... Giving for 29 days is not suggested as a cure for anything. It's simply a coping mechanism and a simple tool you can use that can help you change your thinking about whatever is going on. If you change your thinking, you change your experience."