Tuesday, September 30, 2008

God Speaks To Us

Our reflection question for the next RCIA session has to do with scripture. We are asked to reflect on the question: "what does the Bible mean to you right now"? Regarding this question it seems to me that my thinking has evolved over the years as I gained experience and exposure to scripture studies. I think that when I first found scripture compelling it was because of the question: did this really happen? So I was interested in the stories of Exodus and the questions of historicity. Did the Exodus really happen and what proof is there in the historical record of this event? I think that media like newspapers and television still devote a lot of attention to these kind of questions. The fuss over the Da Vinci Code and over the supposed tomb of the family of Jesus reflects such interest. Ultimately though, this question (while it might be interesting) has little to say to me regarding my relationship with God.

A more useful question then, became (and still is): Does this happen today? The importance of this question and its relevance to the spiritual life first came to me in connection with a passage from Exodus 16. In the passage the Israelites have only just passed from slavery in Egypt into the desert. Very soon the people complain to Moses and Aaron: "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (Ex 16:3) If you only ask if this incident happened in the past the verse is quite meaningless. If you ask if such a thing does happen there is a chance to gain insight into our relationship with God. This came to me after an incident in my own life. Someone very close to me had gone through a very bad marriage. He abused alcohol and drugs as well as his family. When she and her four children finally left him everyone thought that it was for the best. To my surprise a year or so later she told me that she was thinking of going back to him. After a discussion with her it became clear what was happening. She knew what he was like but the stress and challenges of going on her own seemed to be too much. She was on welfare and trying to train for the job market (after being a housewife for 15 years or so). One of her sons was having profound behavioral problems. So the stress and uncertainty of being free (like the Israelites) led her to think of the security that she had before; even though, like the Israelites, she existed then in a form of slavery. And so, when I began to look at Exodus, and all scripture, in this way I began to see the Bible as something that could speak to me and my condition here and now. I also think that in a simple way this addresses the question about the problem of literalism regarding the Bible. I no longer am interested in the question of could creation have happened exactly as described in Genesis. Instead I can pay more attention to the lessons that the stories of Genesis have for me today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Journey of Faith

For our next RCIA session we were asked to reflect on the question: How are you, here and now, on a journey of faith." As I reflect on this question I can see that I have been on this journey but I have not always been making progress on the journey. I am a "cradle Catholic" and so when I was younger I often took many aspects of my faith for granted. The first event that shook me was attending St. Anthony's College run by the Franciscan fathers. There I met some men who had a powerful influence on me and I made a decision to enter the Franciscan seminary in Detroit Michigan. This was a major step for a farm boy from northern Alberta. I spent two years at this seminary but while I had lots of new experiences I (looking back on it) did not grow much in my faith. The next year when I was most of the way through the novititate I came to this realization and decided that it would be best if I left the seminary.

The decision to leave was a very difficult one for me and I think that for many years after that my faith journey was not an important part of my life. I was kind of like the Hebrew people on their journey from slavery to the promised land who stopped at the oasis and wanted to stay there because it was easy and comfortable. Anyway, my searching for something to do eventually led me to the teaching profession and I spent many years as a high school teacher. I think that the demands of teaching were good for me. I especially recognized over time the importance of caring for other people and while I was not a great teacher I think that most of my students believed that I cared about them - and mostly I did.

I think that the next step in my journey came when I retired from teaching. People have this funny notion that retired people should be taken up with leisure and travel. One of the first things that I did though, was to complete a Masters degree in religious education. Following that I became more involved with RCIA and that involvement helped me to grow in my faith. Journeying with people who are trying to come to grips with their spiritual calling helped me to examine my own faith. More recently my involvement with the hospital ministry of my parish has been important to me. Meeting and bringing the Eucharist to so many people and praying for them afterward has been a great help for me. Even more recently taking a lead role in the RCIA program has been an important opportunity again for me to reflect on my own faith and on what is important in life.

I summary then, I can see how my faith journey has many characteristics with the journey of the Hebrew people told in the book of Exodus. I can see how God has been calling to me but I can also see how at times I have ignored God, or complained to God. Today, I hope that I am back on my journey trying to respond to God's call and trying to make progress on my journey.