God is forging our faith on the anvil of our lives.
God uses our experiences to shape our spirituality in a way that equips us to flourish and remain faithful in the changing circumstances of our lives (Romans 8:28).
Carlyle Fielding Stewart III writes that the experiences of African Americans—slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, discrimination, and racism—have been translated into a spirituality that “has enabled black people to develop, translate, and ritualize the hazards and adversities of their social condition into some meaningful culture of survival [Black Spirituality & Black Consciousness—Soul Fore, Culture and Freedom in the African American Experience. P. 17].” The spirituality born of this experience has worked as a countervailing influence to the devaluing and delegitimization of African-American peoples (p. 54). According to Fielding, this spirituality has spawned 3 keys that have led to the survival of African Americans: a strong sense of community; a capacity to embrace nonviolence; and resiliency.
Life changes us.
I remember the first time I held our newborn son. In that moment I realized my life would be changed forever.
As a parent, I have come to understand God and God’s love for us in fresh ways, God being a heavenly parent. I appreciate in deeper ways the meaning of commitment and partnership through shared parenting with my wife. I know what it is to love someone yet let them choose for themselves. I know sacrifice through the experience of raising children. Through parenting, God has changed me.
John Claypool, after his 8 year old daughter had just been diagnosed with leukemia, said to his congregation at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville KY:
“Long before this happened to me, I had come to the conclusion that, it was the nature of God to speak to us through the language of events, and that it was the nature of the church for human beings to share with each other what they thought they had heard God say in the thing that happened to them (Tracks of a Fellow Struggler—Living and Growing Through Grief).
God is and will continue to speak to us through our experiences of both pandemic and a refreshed awareness of racism in our country. We—our churches, our families, our nation, and our world—will be different moving into the future. This is a liminal experience. That means that we are in a place where we are passing from one place to another, and we are standing with one foot on each side of the threshold. It can be a moment of disorientation and uncertainty.
It can also be a moment of profound opportunity for people of faith. God can teach us through these experiences if we listen to our lives. Claypool points out that the church is the place where we talk about what we hear God saying to us as we listen to our lives. At this point it is still premature to venture a guess as to what all God will say, but God will have a transforming word for us.
When we are back together—and we will be back together someday—let us listen to God and then share with one another what we have heard God saying. God is even now forging our faith on the anvil of our living.
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State