Last week I had the opportunity to listen to teacher and author, Lauren Winner, read excerpts from a forthcoming book. Winner, known for her spiritual autobiography, Girl Meets God, chronicled her journey from orthodox Judaism to the Christian faith. That was ten years ago. And now, her book that will be published after the first of the year deals with a faith that is not new, but in the middle passages. Her insights are raw and honest, balancing real doubt with real hope. I can’t wait.
She made one comment, almost in passing, that rang so very true with me. Because her first book – especially touted by those who live in a piety of first conversion stories – dealt with finding this Jesus and finding her Jewish resting place with him, she is often kept in that beginning place by well-meaning people who forget that life and faith unfold. They also want the conversion story told over and over because that’s what they value in their particular tradition.
What Winner disclosed was how faith moves on, the beginnings serving as just that, beginnings. Most of life is not the beginning, but unfolds after it. And it is thick, messy and uneven. One of her personal challenges is that when people come to know her through Girl Meets God they tend to keep her there, as one frozen in time.
But that’s not the way things are. The person she was is still within her, she explained, but as a living memory. In that respect, her present day person is both continuous and discontinuous with her earlier self. Oh, yes, it is there. But no, it isn’t. Like looking back at our own photographs of 10, 20, or 50 years ago, we see the person from whence we have come, one earlier layer of the whole self we are now.
I think that this insight holds a powerful truth and a corresponding challenge.
Can we expect ourselves to be multi-layered beings, allowing life to unfold and transform in time? And can we offer that same expectation to others as a kind of blessing on their spiritual lives and paths? Are we able to rejoice in what was and also what is yet to be?
If we get teary at the birth of children, weddings and funerals it is because the huge turning of the wheel is unambiguously revealed. We’re all moving targets, every one, and buried inside that continuous movement is a presence and power that is as ancient as the beginning of the world and as new as its future. And we’re becoming new creatures on top of that, within it, because of it.
Hush. Don’t say a word. Just soak up the mystery.