*Editor's Note: This article has been revised from its original version to expand on some of the thoughts expressed.
“Faith is a gift I have yet to receive.” Robert Langdon, from Angels and Demons.
Finding faith is often compared to walking a path, but my trek is more like the streets of Columbia: Full of potholes, and lined with confusing lane markings.
The faith I’ve searched for is Christianity. I grew up in a family that attended a Protestant church every Sunday, and we participated in all the activities. For the most part, though, I was just going through the motions, doing those things because I was supposed to. Once I went away to college, religion faded away. In my mind, I’d already “done my time” as a Christian. From childhood through high school, I had dutifully participated in every church function whether I wanted to or not. Now, I could do anything I wanted on Sunday mornings. Sleeping was a favorite.
When I got older, I attended a worship service every now and then. They were usually Protestant services, but of different denominations; a “belief buffet” of doctrines to sample. Once I accepted an invitation to a midnight Pagan winter solstice event, but the extreme December cold in a northern state sent me home in a hurry. Everywhere I lived, I tried a local Methodist church at least once, because that was my family’s church.
The time came when I decided to work harder, with true sincerity, at Christian belief. I involved myself with worship services, Sunday school, Bible studies and daily devotionals. I prayed for conviction. I prayed for faith.
I reached my hand out to God, but He did not take it.
I often pondered the situation while walking the MKT trail. I wasn’t angry or sad. Bewildered, maybe. What else could I have done? The answer found me as I walked: I was not meant to follow Christianity. I felt immediate peace, an understanding that there are many paths to God. I’d been following those confusing street lanes, falling in potholes.
Leaving behind my childhood religion to seek a more personal spirituality was uncomfortable. I knew what was behind; it was familiar. What lay ahead was a complete unknown. There were no steps to follow, no map to guide me. Somehow, I had to forge ahead, trusting in this different kind of God.
Weeks passed. My daily walks on the trail were cherished times for contemplation. Spring turned into summer, and in my thoughts I thanked a mysterious God for the green-leaved trees, blooming flowers, and trickling creeks encountered along the way. I never asked for anything; not for myself nor anyone else. I wasn’t praying in a conventional sense; I spoke in personal monologues, offering a simple “thank you.”
I had discovered God, and gratitude, in nature. I realized that I’d always felt closest to God while out in the woods or the mountains, awash with the glories of the physical world. Even the bleakness of a winter forest had its own wonders. Holiness was all around me. I could see it, I could feel it, smell, taste, and hear this world created by a God in charge of the universe and everything in it. It felt right in the depths of a soul not touched by traditional religion.
Surely I wasn’t alone; there had to be others who had found a spiritual relationship with a God of the natural world. I wanted to know if It had a name. I wanted to know what else It meant. It…was Deism.
Next time: Deism explained.