One Step ahead of Personal and Spiritual Annihilation
by Harry Banks
I was the only guy in the women's studies University of Alaska—Anchorage student showcase group. A friend at work had written a paper on the women clerical worker's 1984 strike at Yale University. Unable to personally make her presentation, she had asked me to read her paper for the student showcase event.
A young black poet was on the schedule just ahead of my presentation. As she described her personal journey and motivation for her poetry, she said, "I just try to stay one step ahead of personal and spiritual Annihilation." I don't remember her name. I don't remember her poem. But I have never forgot those words. Powerful visions of domestic violence, failures of spiritual leaders, church condemnation, and shunning flooded through my mind. Yet here she was calm and poised, ready to lay out a poetic piece of her life for all to share.
Recently I have had a period where it felt that I have been trying to stay one step ahead of personal and spiritual annihilation. As an attempt at spiritual survival I stepped away from my local congregation and started meeting with some spiritual friends who were sharing some of my journey. From time to time there is a strong temptation to finger-point and blame, and I have yet to figure out how I will ultimately relate to my formal organization, but I would like to share some of what seems to be unfolding.
At my local college, I am the only full time Instructor of Information Technology. My program prepares students to fill the needs of organizations that need technical computer networking and server-administrative skills.
In the middle of this spiritually disorienting time, one of my adjunct instructors plopped herself down in my office and announced that one of her programmer coworkers at the Information Technology (IT) shop (where I used to work and where she currently is working) was starting a Saturday, 11 o’clock Bible study at the local telephone company education center.
It always surprises me when conversations like this pop up in the context of a department dedicated to industry certifications and topics of complex technology!
What? Saturday church? At the phone company? With an IT geek for a leader? Oh, and who also happened to have previously been an atheist, and we are not done yet… The group is purposefully nondenominational to attract persons who feel alienated from religion or formalized religion for whatever reason.
The first week, Larry, the programmer leader, opened by saying that he felt a need to reach out to the people around him and make a place to engage with them where they are. No pressure to come to a certain position or place of belief, but an exchange of personal spiritual journeys whether in a context of doubt or faith. With Larry's atheist background, the agnostic, Julian Barnes' line, "I don't believe in God, but I miss him," seems to point to a possible point of contact for us all. There is that empty spot in all of us. Regardless of our state of belief or unbelief there is still a place in us only God can fill.
The first few weeks have been looking at the crucifixion from the point of view of different individuals close to Jesus—Mary mother of Jesus, Judas and Peter, soldiers, Pilate and Jewish leaders, as well as the thief on the cross. We have reflected on our contemporary lives and each week asked, "What would Jesus do?"
Confronted with the divine passion of Christ to redeem humanity at all costs—to forgive to the extreme—we have an opportunity to start sketching in new lines of redemption in own lives.
One of my favorite passages from Isaiah describes His Servant with the words, "He will not quench a smoldering flax." I have never built a fire with flax. But I do have a wood stove. Some days I find faint coals left from the previous fire. Small bits of tinder or a torn piece of birch bark are placed by the coals. Gradually they begin to smolder. Sometimes I impatiently blow on them. Sometimes I fan them with a piece of bark. Sometimes I just wait for the flames to spring up.
Right now this place of openness, acceptance and honesty seems an important place to rekindle faith. Moving though my community, I have recently encounters others that both Larry and I share as friends in common. One of them said, I'm glad you started attending Larry's group; it is making me reevaluate my own faith!
So was this always meant to be?
Here in Alaska we have silt-laden rivers with "braided streams." The river flows through a broad riverbed, but several channels snake back and forth, combining and separating and then rejoining in new combinations, constantly changing as the silt builds up and forces the water to change course. I keep wondering, is this one of those spiritual braided streams? What is God up to?
I would covet your stories about any stage of faith (or felt absence of faith):
faith wished for,
In anticipation or your generous comments … Thank you for sharing.