Where was civilization? How could I get back?
At 21, I still thought that most of life's disasters could be prevented by forming adequate plans in advance. On account of this, I'd begun making up and refining my future courtship story in childhood, whispering new installments to myself in the dark until my parents finally shushed me for the night. (I didn't know all that rehearsing would leave me still single at 36.)
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When big, honest, questions about God, the Bible and Christian faith began to surface — and refused to subside either quickly or without answer — I freaked out. Was this the start of my spiritual divorce, a rift that would not just sever me from God, but deeply disappoint all the loved ones who had helped rear me in faith?
For a few months, I languished in intellectual and spiritual limbo, unsure how or which way to move. Even the words of the Bible rang dully on my ears, like piano keys cut from their strings.
Something similar happened years later, when I got separated from my English-speaking tour group the day we were slated to visit Machu Pichu.
I’d traveled to Peru to visit my sister, visit friends and see the famed ruins, picking only the most limited Spanish beforehand. The night before my tour group went up the mountain, I found myself thinking about the site's religious history with some uncertainty. So as I prayed before going to bed, I asked God to show Himself God on the mountain the next day.
I don't really know what I meant by that, but perhaps I'd been reading through stories from 1 Kings in my daily Bible times.
When my wake-up knock came early the next day, I quickly dressed and packed a light bag before heading downstairs to grab a quick bite before the bus ride up the mountain, To my growing horror, the dining room was empty. For some inexplicable reason, the hostel had woken me up an hour late and my tour group and English-speaking guide had left without me.
Outside, the sky was bright with early morning light, a sure sign I'd missed the magic, "perfect postcard picture" our tour guide promised us, of the sun rising over the ancient city's ruins.
Fighting panic and tears, I raced to the bus line, thankful my guide had distributed bus and entry tickets the night before.
Unfortunately, I'd spent so little time talking to him that I knew I'd never pick out his face in the crowds of tourists and guides that flocked to the mountain that July day. In fact, I could hardly remember anyone's face. I'd mainly spoken to an American woman with henna-dyed hair. How would I ever find them?
When the bus at least deposited me at the entrance, dust billowing lazily from our ascent, I noticed the sun's rays had not yet touched the ruins. I might have lost my group for the day, but perhaps I could still get that "postcard picture."
Hurrying through the entry gate, I quickly took stock of the sprawling, terraced ruins before me, beyond which the mountain dropped off in a steep, green cliff. Though it was not yet 8 a.m., crowds of tourists were scattered all over the almost primordial slope. After a moment, I realized visitors were mostly clustered in small groups, probably waiting to capture that same great shot our guide had promised my group.
They were sitting or standing. The sun seemed minutes from touching the ruins, but if I had any chance to find my group that day, this was it. If only I could recognize someone!
Breathing out a trembling prayer for help, I started forward along the stony path. Soon I reached my first juncture, and inside, some quiet thought seemed to nudge me left. Another juncture. Again a quiet thought.
I was too panicked that my expensive, once-in-a-lifetime trip would be ruined to question the instinct, so at each turn, I followed what I thought I heard.
Shortly after the sun finally did National Geographic proud, I caught a glimpse of slightly maroon hair over on the next terraced hill. It was my dinner companion! I'd found my group!
Whether the quiet prompts that led me turn-by-turn back to my group were God or some providentially accurate instinct, I got similar help through my spiritual crisis. Only in that case, many of the small encouragements came from books or other people’s stories.
One day, shortly after the lowest point in that agonizing, long season of doubt and confusion, I found Daniel Taylor's The Myth of Certainty on a cousin's bookshelf. As I began to read it, I heard for the first time not concern or warning, but encouragement about the questions that had divided me from so many of my friends and relatives.
It was enough to light a pinpoint of hope in me, to help me reach the next juncture.
I'd like to think Disquiet Time, the new essay collection edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani, could serve as a similar lifeline. I'm still working through each of my co-contributors' essays (I contributed one on doubt), but by page 40 I'd laughed several times and teared up at Ian Morgan Cron's account of a church's help with reading lessons.
These essays may not answer many of the various questions they pose, but each invites the reader to continue the conversation with God and the Bible. And as Falsani writes in her essay, "Just as I Am," "polite conversation with God puts no topic off-limits."
At the start of my crisis of faith, I mostly wanted a clear, direct map back to where I'd been and what I knew. I had no idea of the treasures hidden ahead of me in desert, the surprisingly fierce loyalty that would bloom only after hours of desperate and sometimes angry prayer walks through the streets of Brooklyn and now Richmond, California.
I didn't know that sometimes faith looks like and grows through the courage of questions.
For those still learning to struggle with God and the Bible, Disquiet Time offers forty-odd vignettes of others' efforts to faithfully wrestle.
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