I am here, as we say in the church, “but for the grace of God.” Born protected. Not sure why, certainly nothing I did. As I look all the way back on my life, every step along the way then fast forward to today, I see a distinct thread leading me through the worst and the best of times – yes, God has kept me through it all.
It has not always been easy. My faith has come and gone in wave-like patterns, sometimes of tidal wave proportions, other times a small ripple in a pond. I actually thought that for several decades of my adult life I had turned away from God. But God never turned away from me, never left me, always, provided, protected, prevented, preceded… I serve a faithful God that has never given up on me, even when I gave up on God. And I am, therefore, even more humbled by this steadfast, loving, unequivocal, unceasing relationship — one that I am finally, after a lifetime of struggles in faith(fulness), taking more seriously than ever before.
Even in the times when I thought I was exercising my faith, I now realize that I was often just going through the motions. Using my life as a hula dancer as a metaphor, I started out dancing hula upon moving to Hawaii. I had a grand time learning the motions, studying some Hawaiian language and memorizing chants, and enjoying the camaraderie among my hula brothers. I became a front line dancer, confident in my precise footwork and synchronized movement. I chanted louder than anyone, projecting my voice across spaces and places. I was chosen to become an alaka’i, a person who assists the kumu (teacher/leader). I did this for years. And then I stopped, feeling a bit of burnout on fundraisers, rehearsal schedules and the pressures of prepping for competitions. Several years later, I realized that I missed hula too much not to keep dancing. A dear friend, Maile Loo, became the hanai (adopted) daughter of the preeminent Hawaiian cultural phenomenon named Auntie Nona Beamer. Maile had been a “Beamer” dancer for years and was officially recognized as a kumu hula in the “Beamer” style. She convinced me to join her group as the sole male dancer, no competitions, no fundraisers… Unbeknownst to me at the time, my next hula journey would be transformational. This approach to dancing hula was completely different even though footwork, posture, motions were just as important. Before we were shown even one step, we studied the lyrics of every mele (song) and chant. We learned the meaning of every single word, the origin, the composer, often we visited the place that was being celebrated. We were taught to embody the lyrics and the traditions as a dancer… and then we learned the movement. The first time I danced hula this way, I came to the realization that for the many prior years of highly proficient dancing, I had never truly danced hula. I felt a freedom, a depth of understanding, an authentic emotion as I swayed to and fro. I wasn’t just dancing hula, I was the hula… And thus ends my metaphor for faith. We can become highly proficient at going through the motions, but have we ever experienced the moment when we become our faith?
So, as I make this faith journey, I love sharing what I discover along the way in hopes that it may help someone – I know it helps me to write it. Many of you may have already walked this path and might regard this as Faith 101 or Faith for Dummies. Nevertheless, I want to share some of my learnings that I truly believe are divinely inspired:
- Talking with God like a best friend, mentor, psychiatrist, family member and loved one builds a relationship that is real and tangible, not to mention, comforting, strengthening and encouraging. If you haven’t spent time with God in one on one conversations on a regular basis, how will you ever connect to God?
- Knowing God’s word (the Bible) is foundational to our faith. This is not just taking a few verses that support your belief and using them as weapons to reveal others’ shortcomings or “sin” or to defend your point. It is reading, questioning, struggling, immersing, visualizing and first and foremost seeking divine insights to gain a more holistic understanding of its meaning for our lives. I listen to the audio Bible nearly every day during my 1/2 hour commute to work and even the most familiar books like the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have come alive for me. I feel like I learn or hear something new every time I listen to God speaking to me through the Word.
- Questioning what you believe is a healthy part of the journey. I have never been a fan of the concept of blind faith. For me, blind faith = cult = people control and bondage = nothing to do with God and can result in some very negative consequences (remember Jonestown?). Faith actually frees us to be the people God created us to be. And part of what we should be engaged in are healthy, respectful debates that challenge us to go deep and embrace the struggle.
- Faith is relational so it requires community. Faith is not a solo endeavor. There are aspects of faith that are deeply personal, but I now believe that to grow in faith requires interactions with others. Some people will lift us up and others may drag us down. For years, I believed that I could fully practice and grow in my faith in isolation through solo meditation and inward prayer. I have since come to understand how important an extended faith community is to our individual growth. As we share our lives, experiences, ponderings, challenges and insights with others, we expand our thinking and understanding and have the opportunity to be supported as well as provide support.
- Seeking God’s will for our lives is a deeply personal effort and is oftentimes confusing. In truth, I don’t think we are ever finished seeking God’s will. It is an ever present and ongoing effort. In our lives we encounter huge forks in the road as well as more minor daily decision points. As we are led by God in these spaces and every one in between, it is the seeking that counts. We sometimes get it right, but more often than not, many of us are unsure of many of the steps we take. And that’s why I say it is the seeking that counts – God takes our steps and missteps and turns them into gold. Each experience, each moment leads us to a better and brighter future because that’s how God operates. God takes our heartaches and turns them into our hallelujahs.
- Being filled by the Holy Spirit is real – it just looks different for every person. I never understood the shout or the running for God as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit until this year… I still have never run (I have, however, had a good jumping in place experience in a wee hour encounter with God). I think I’ve come close to a shout (also in the wee hours) during which I felt like I would burst out of my skin because of the overwhelming gratitude I was feeling toward God. But sometimes it’s just a glowing inside, a quiet peace that you know comes from God. Sometimes it’s a grand insight into something you’ve been struggling with that you know came from God. My main learning here is that it is a unique experience for each believer. As long as there is an authenticity and openness to the Spirit, it could appear in many different forms. My learning is to not allow your preconceived notions of what it means to be filled by the Spirit dictate how and what form it takes.
My hope is that these musings may inspire someone to think about their faith journey and try out something new. For in spite of ourselves, God keeps us through it all.