Portland’s Columbia River Gorge is on fire. Hopefully soon, we’ll get some of that rain we’re so famous for, but, still, there will be devastation in the fire’s wake. In times like this, I look to the God of Resiliency.
The fire was started when some teenagers dropped firecrackers into a ravine here and Portland, so famous for rain has in recent summers become so dry - dry as a tinder box - and it went up in flames.
In Portland, miles away, the air smells like a campfire, and ash floats through the air, landing in our hair, in a soft dusting across our t-shirts. When we go out in the morning, a layer of ash coats our cars.
All day yesterday I couldn’t settle. I cried on and off, with visions of evacuation. I want to drive to the coast so I can just get in the water if the fire gets too close. You know you’re in a bad situation when your best, most logical, thought is: I’ll live in the ocean.
I’m not a mermaid.
I called my husband yesterday to caution him to bring home whatever he needed from work in case he couldn’t drive in tomorrow, and he answered, “Oh, the fire’s 60 blocks away.”
Yeah. That doesn’t make me feel better.
This fire jumped the mile-wide Columbia River and spread into Washington state. Burning embers travelled on the wind. So, if the wind changes direction, I don’t think 60 blocks is really going to protect him. And, he, like for many married couples is my home. My home is not this apartment. It’s a mobile home, called Aaron. Wherever he is, is where I am at home. So I can’t have that home getting caught in a fire out in the Gorge.
This fire’s got me thinking about faith and uncertainty. So much of my longing is just a longing for certainty. And really that’s what turns me off about some variations of religious people. Their immense certainty.
I envy it, but that's not how my faith has worked.
I hesitate to even write about this topic - worried that it will incite a lot of proselytizing. And it might. It might. I get my share of that, just by writing about spirituality. It seems we humans approach issues of faith and spirit from two directions - the very, very certain, and the not so certain.
So, I believe, in something. But I’m not so sure what exactly that something is. I’m ok with that for the most part. For me, right now, I believe in the spirit of resiliency itself.
The Spirit of Resiliency has carried me through bad times.
It’s hard for me to get on board with the idea that all is according to God’s plan (though I’ll use that idea if it’s all I’ve got). It helps me to know that I’m not alone in this. Many people “of faith” don’t believe that God necessarily unfolds earth’s events according to some grand plan.
This isn’t a challenge. I’m not asking for someone to debate me into submission, and I’m not challenging anyone to defend their beliefs.
Why even talk about these things if I don’t want the debate? Well, I’ll answer that with a little story. Years ago, my husband and I were invited to church by a couple we knew. We had a lot in common with these two and we just really liked them. We were curious about their faith, so when they invited us, we went.
I knew from my friends that the minister of the church was a woman who was bald - at that very moment - from chemotherapy. And she stood in front of the church in her wig and talked about the glory of God and how all is well in God’s universe. No mention of the cancer. No mention of chemo. And I’ll tell you, I wanted more. I wanted to ask her - How are you doing this? How are you connecting with God now, right now, bald, in front of this church?
How do you get from chemo to the Glory of God and all is well? I believed her that she was there, but I needed to hear about the path. I needed to hear - how do you get from fear to faith? That’s one of the goals of this project, these essays, articles. To help myself figure this out.
How do we build a faith that works under all circumstances, whether we’re “believers” or not?
There are many of us who have a hard time with the idea that all is pre-ordained by God. We have a hard time looking at the world and saying, “Oh, yes, this is all going according to plan.” We have a hard time believing that things like genocide are seen by God, that he/she/it could have changed it, but didn’t.
The idea that God is both all-powerful and yet does not intervene in terrible things leaves us with a pretty terrible God. This is not meant to be blasphemous, but real, searching questioning. If we are going to find a God we trust, some of us have to ask these questions.
In order to find a faith that really sustains us, we have to wrestle with these questions of faith, of spirit, for ourselves. So even if you’ve found a path that really works for you, I can’t just follow your path. Or maybe I can, but the path will unfold differently for me. It will be my own.
We are all alone in our faith. Our faith is personal to us, even when it’s shared in a faith community.
Forrest Church, a Unitarian Universalist minister, talked with Fresh Air host Terry Gross about this idea of a God who is something other than interventionist or non-interventionist. More of a spirit of things, the life force itself. An energy that makes things possible.
In my Episcopal Church, our Dean Nathan LeRud answers any doctrinal question by providing five answers from five different thinkers. He places himself in the conversation, and expects the congregation to do the same. No one person is assumed to have all the answers.
This resembles the Talmudic tradition in Judaism. The idea that faith is an unfolding conversation, a search for truth, rather than a finding. Or a finding, for me, for now, but not the expectation that my finding will necessarily be yours.
Buddhist writer Pema Chodron talks about this uncertainty as the essential groundlessness of reality. That we both are ok, and we’re not ok. That we’re both. The both-ness of life.
So, the fires in Portland. I have no idea what’s happening. My faith is not of the nature today, in this moment, that I can just tell myself that God has this well in hand and all will be well. That may be the case in some bigger, cosmic sense, but here on earth I see a lot of suffering. A lot of “not well.”
And so I feel some uncertainty about what’s happening, what’s going to happen. But still, I can connect with a God I can believe in, right now, in this moment. The God of Resiliency.
If you’re struggling too, I offer you the God of Resiliency. A Spirit of Resiliency. It’s the thing inside you that can help you, no matter what. It’s your survival instinct. Your connection to the energy that has gotten you through the worst of your own disappointments - your marriage failing, losing your job, or waking up from addiction and seeing that you have laid waste to your own life.
This is where the God of Resiliency comes in.
In the Hindu faith there are different gods for different facets of the divine. In the Bible, God is presented as one thing, but he/she/it is remarkably changing - different faces of one thing. A god of destruction, a god of love, the dove of peace, a lion, a lamb. God is all things in the Bible.
But for me, one God I can believe, all the time, is the God of Resiliency. The God that’s available as a voice or a sense right inside me. The thing that can help me on the worst of days to go to the hospital one more time, or that lay next to me on the sofa bed as I watched an entire season of House of Cards when I couldn’t sleep a week after my father died.
The God of Resiliency got me through the difficult moments of my childhood, and can help me now, as I look out at the yellow sky, sooty with ash, my throat burning from smoke, and watch my husband driving toward the fire rather than away.
My son and I lie on the sofa next to each other and read our books. We eat bread with strawberry jam and bacon for dinner. My husband comes home and we try to play a game but we all feel sick from the smoke, my nose burning, eyes dry, throat aching, and we give up. Go back to reading. And it’s enough for now.
Whatever happens, we’ll get through it, or we won’t. And there is a bigger something at play. My life is important, but it’s not all I’ve got. If we have to go live in the ocean, we will.
I offer you nothing today but the thing inside you that saves you: The God of Resiliency. Your own rising spirit. Your own savior. You can connect with it when you need it. And I need it today, so I’m connecting with mine.
So, it’s a story of death and overcoming. That’s part of why our culture loves the Easter story so much. The idea that even death can’t stop us. It’s very American in a way. No defeat. No defeat. But also, whether we believe in it as gospel or as myth, the resurrection story connects us with the idea that our personal tragedies aren’t the end for us.
We are part of a bigger story. The end may not be the end.
So when have you thought you were at the end and where did you go instead?
When has your own God of Resiliency stepped in to save you?
Comment here, if you want, or email me to tell me in private.