from "A Private History of Awe"
Although I sat through many sermons, I heard no references to the latest bombing in Alabama, no references to the Cuban missile showdown or nuclear weapons, no references to poverty. What I did hear, in service after service, was the Apostle's Creed:
I belive in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting, Amen.
I had long since memorized the creed, had recited it on countless Sundays, but that fall, as I sat in those echoing churches, I examined it closely for the first time. How much of it did I actually believe? I believed the heavens and earth weren't accidental but were the handiwork of an unimaginably vast and subtle power, which I still felt comfortable calling God. I also believed that a Jewish prophet named Jesus had lived and taught two thousand years before and had died on a cross. But as I probed my childhood faith, I discovered I no longer believed that Jesus was the one and only son of the Creator, nor that he had been born of a virgin, nor that he had risen, bodily, from the dead.
If I doubted the resurrection, how could I believe in the prospect of everlasting life? If I doubted the central promise of Christianity, how could I call myself a Christian? Everything in the Apostle's Creed pointed toward the denial of death and the longing for immortality. Left out entirely was any mention of how we should live, how we should treat one another, how we should deal with the poor, the sick, the weak, the mad, the old, or with the millions of other species on our planet. And those were the questions that concerned me. The creed said nothing about justice, healing, peacemaking, or compassion. And those were the impulses that moved me, as I encountered them in Jesus and Isaiah and Amos, in the writings of Mohandas Gandhi, and the speeches of Dr. King. Nor did the creed convey anything of the awe I felt in the woods, along the stony beds of creeks, or in the company of storms and stars.
I would have been happy
to save my soul - assuming I had one, and assuming it was salvageable - but
I couldn't accept that we were born into this world merely to angle for a favorable
deal in the next one. Surely there was work we should be doing right here, right
now, in this amazing flesh and brimming instant. Surely there must be some purpose
in life larger than one's own private salvation. Surely the fate of one's soul
is bound up with the fate of one's neighbors and neighborhood.