Seeing as I am part of the “young adult” population at King’s, I thought I would make my Lenten reflection about a “young adult” moment in my spiritual life.
I was raised in a wonderful church in downtown Chicago. It was the perfect balance of Christian tradition, energy for peace and justice, deep and thoughtful ministry, and occupied a true role as a light in the city.
When I left Chicago to go to college in New York, I didn’t yet understand the spiritual journey I was embarking on. The first week I arrived in New York, I went to a nearby church, as I was accustomed to doing on Sunday mornings with my family, but found none of the things that defined a church for me. For the next two years, I went to a different church every Sunday – alone – searching for a match to the spiritual template of my childhood. As this search went on, I decided to major in religion – to learn about all of the world’s forms of worship so that I might synthesize this information and work out the correct way of worship.
This search came along with a price. In doing this, I lost myself spiritually. You see, I was one of those children who spoke every night to God, thanked him for my experiences, told him I loved him. I had a palpable and intimate relationship with God – and finding his presence in my world had always been easy. I felt his presence whenever I looked up at the sky. It was my compass, and His presence was as apparent to me as sunlight or as air.
Somehow, not being able to find the spiritual home of my childhood elsewhere in the world robbed this feeling of its reality. Seeing the myriad forms of worship made my own religion feel arbitrary – How was I ever to worship again with that childlike innocence?
I so craved that raw, palpable connection, I found myself throwing myself into danger -- Seeking remote, raw experiences that felt close to God and his creation. A moment of clarity came to me one year, when I was working on a research project in Northern India, Nepal, and Tibet.
One day on this trip, I found myself deep into the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, alone, and ultimately in quite a bit of danger. I had been arrested for trespassing into a forbidden territory in the Tibetan Plateau, and was facing the possibility of prison. I had walked to the edge of myself. To the edge of His world. Far past the edge of contact with anyone who knew where I was, anyone who could help me. I put myself there, because I wanted attention.
I remember a moment that day, riding in a police car over bumpy roads in the Himalayas. Mountains on all sides, sun-bleached prayer flags flapping in the wind, cool thin air rushing through the car. The air is incredibly thin on the top of the world. The man driving me spoke no English. He looked straight ahead as he raced around mountain bends. I looked up at the sky – the clear blue sky – and looked to God. I opened my heart as wide as it could open and listened for his response.
It never came. But I remember those moments as palpable and real. My call echoed back to me, and somehow in that silence I had an answer -- a different sort of companionship with God.
I do have experiences these days of that simple, almost childlike connection with God. And many moments that are more about His absence. It’s more complicated. But somehow, they belong together. And I am grateful for a congregation in which I can wrestle with this, and rejoice in the many faces of God.
I will end with a quote from the French philosopher, Simone Veil, from her book Grace and Gravity:
“Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.”