Grieving Faith

I was raised in black Baptist and African Methodist churches. My grandparents’ Carolina Christianity migrated with them to Washington D.C. As they ambled around the kitchen preparing dinner or in the alley side herb garden, they hummed hymns under their breaths. They got down on their knees at bedside every morning and every night. They told me that Jesus loved the little children.

I spent several weeknights and all day Sunday in church. I joined the Sunbeam Children’s Choir at church when I was three years old. I learned African American spirituals in summer Vacation Bible School. I had memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and the name of every book in the Bible before I was eight years old.

This southern faith of struggle and worship was part of the air I breathed. When I am afraid, nervous or lonely, I return to this place. I think of deacons on black suits swaying on the front row. I reimagine my Nana singing as she shaped biscuits with a mason jar. I recall Grandma’s words of how God gives back what we give to God – but tenfold, hundredfold, thousandfold. I mutter under my breath; I sing the songs in my head; I return to the churches of my childhood reaching for the altars where I once knelt.

But it’s not my faith anymore. As depressive episodes and seasons of grief entered my life, I lost those beliefs. I could no longer believe there was a kind of divine justice balancing out pain and joy. I could not believe that somehow, spiritually Jesus would make it all right. I could not believe that I could grow weary but not faint.

Because experience showed me the opposite. Sometimes the morning came, but joy was weeks and months behind. Prayers to Jesus did not remove the desperation that wondered why I should be alive. And I have been in seasons where the fight for psychic survival was so daily, that weariness looked like a place of rest.

On the other side of depressive lows, I scraped, studied and fought for a new way to believe. I forsook songs of divine deliverance for an unwavering belief in God’s omnipresence. In the deepest core of who I am, I know that God is with me, holding me, crying with me, laughing with me, and believing in me when I don’t believe in myself. I traded in praise songs for a sense of radical incarnation. I know that God is active in my friends who take me to coffee, the rocks my daughter picks up as she walks and the medicines I take to heal. I don’t ask God to make it better; I’m glad to believe that God understands what I can’t say.

This faith is strong, quiet and without much ritual. It weaves together the moments of my days and rocks me to sleep at night.

But then a song will rotate through the shuffle feature on my iPod as I work out. It’s a spiritual or a hymn or an evangelical praise song. I’ll sing along, move to the beat and tear up as I realize that I don’t believe a word I’m saying. This previous faith comes to me in spurts and waves like the memories of my ancestors.

I know that depression and change bring loss. I believe in new creation. And I love the simplicity and tenacity of the faith I now have. But if I tell the whole truth: I miss what I lost. I miss how it feels and sounds and that I know where to find it in community. There’s a grief.

So I’m looking. I’m looking for ways to pass on the best of my cultural faith with the security of my current beliefs. I’m looking for the community of people who call out the Scriptures that don’t align with our experience. I’m looking for the sermons that share biblical stories that teach about humanity’s fickle relationship with itself. I’m looking for music that will ground my daughter the way my grandmothers’ songs grounded me. I want her to have a place to return when she is scared and lonely. And I’d like it to be a place she doesn’t have to leave when comes to her right mind.

 

Book Monica A. Coleman to speak at your event.

Monica speaks with heart and vulnerability as she discusses some of the most challenging issues of our day. She speaks out on issues that churches and society often keep silent: mental health, sexual and domestic violence and religious diversity. In the pulpit, she offers a refreshing view of how scripture leads us to community and social action. In academic lectures, she blends her knowledge of religion, cultural studies and literature with social issues to offer new visions of faith. In every setting, she shows audiences how our faith can free us to be more and more of who and how God calls us to be.

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Book Monica A. Coleman to speak at your event.

Monica speaks with heart and vulnerability as she discusses some of the most challenging issues of our day. She speaks out on issues that churches and society often keep silent: mental health, sexual and domestic violence and religious diversity. In the pulpit, she offers a refreshing view of how scripture leads us to community and social action. In academic lectures, she blends her knowledge of religion, cultural studies and literature with social issues to offer new visions of faith. In every setting, she shows audiences how our faith can free us to be more and more of who and how God calls us to be.

Read More