For Christmas my father gave me Hannah’s Child, the memoir of Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who has been influential in my own thinking about and (I hope) practice of the Christian faith. A while back Dan posted an interesting liturgy he wrote during Christmas on the theme of godforsakenness. While I disagree with Dan that we are indeed godforsaken I understand that, subjectively, it is not difficult to see how one could feel godforsaken. Indeed, I rarely (if ever) “feel” that God is present. As Hauerwas would say, God is just not “there” for me. Hauerwas opens the memoir with the following confession which I resonate deeply with myself.
I believe what I write, or rather, by writing I learn to believe. But then I do not put much stock in “believing in God.” The grammar of “belief” invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian. “Belief” implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do. Does that mean I do not believe in God? Of course not, but I am far more interested in what a declaration of belief entails for how I live my life.
It may be that I am not that interested in “belief” because God is just not “there” for me. God is “there” for some. God is there for Paula, my wife; for Timothy Kimbrough, the rector of Holy Family Episcopal Church; for Sam Wells, my friend. But God is not there for me in the same way. Prayer never comes easy for me. I am not complaining. I assume this to be God’s gift to help me think hard about what it means to worship God in a world where God is no longer simply “there.”
Charles Taylor has characterized “our age” as one of “exclusive humanism.” God is a “hypothesis” most people no longer need – and “most people” includes those who say they believe in God. Indeed, when most people think it “important” that they believe in God, you have an indication that the God they believe in cannot be the God who raised Jesus from the dead or Israel from Egypt.
I do think that the first task of the church is to make the world the world. That means, of course, that I need all the help I can get to recognize that I am “world.” But I sometimes worry that my stress on the “Christian difference” may be my attempt to overcompensate for my lack of “faith.” That still does not seem to get the matter right. It is not that I lack faith, but that I always have the sense that I am such a beginner when it comes to knowing how to be a Christian.
“How” is the heart of the matter for me. When I first read Kierkegaard, I was quite taken with his suggestion that the “what” of Christianity is not the problem. It is the “how.” I have spent many years trying to say that we cannot understand the “what” of Christianity without knowing “how” to be Christian. Yet then I worry about the how of my own life.