The Joyful Bookshelf
I am a person of faith.
What I mean by that is that I am a Christian. There are other faiths, but this one is mine.
And despite this, there has always seemed to be something getting in the way of any shared experience of faith. When I talk to other people, listen to worship music, and read Christian books, I feel a disconnect. It's as if we are speaking about different things. You can imagine what this does to someone who is forming their ideas on God, the world, and morality. It instills a set of deep rooted questions:
Who's experience is valid? Why is mine different? How do I overcome these differences?
This of course comes on top of all the other questions young people of faith are constantly asking, about the very existence of a god, what that looks like, and whether the idea of God is a good one. I happen to be of the belief that these questions are very real and a necessary part of life. Doubt causes us to question things, and when an idea is questioned, the eventual answer is strengthened and tempered. Faith, it turns out, requires a lot of doubt. And youth finds no shortage of doubt.
*I'll interject here to point out that I believe the formation of faith is a lifelong journey. To me, it seems like I have little conscious choice in my drive to always be asking questions. There's something to be said for epistemological modesty- the belief that the world is complex, and that I cannot hope to understand all of it. It allows me to question my beliefs, and have them altered to the betterment of myself.
This whole conversation leads to the experience of talking with other Christians who's experience seems different from my own. I see many people filled with joy. Now joy seems to be at the root of my distance from the Christian experience. The bible speaks about joy. We sing songs about joy. People raise their arms and shout as an expression of it. Yet after years of intentional, willing, and enthusiastic discipleship, I'm not sure I could tell you what it feels like. At least, when comparing myself to these songs and speakers, I'm lead to believe I have not felt this true joy.
Obviously this is complicated, and a sensitive topic. This is mostly because I don't know what goes on in someone else's head when they raise thier hands in worship. My reaction to music and to spirituality in general is to go inward. I have tried to go outward and display this energy that I see so many people displaying, but to me it is disingenuous. It's not real to me. I've met many lovely people that seem to be full to bursting, displaying cheerfulness and obvious satisfaction. This is most obviously seen in popular christian books, fiction or otherwise. They are full of inspirational, heartwarming stories. I've read quite a few of them during my three year stint at Chapters, and I've been generally unmoved. They speak to this ultimate goal of joyfulness through faith, and yet they joy they describe is the bubbly, outward one that escapes me. This is the faith that is promoted by Christian authors, and it leaves people like me on the outside.
It's not that I'm not a happy person, because I am. But the happiness I feel doesn't manifest itself in the same way as these other people. My joy is a satisfaction that I feel deep within me. It's a well, or a deep set of roots securing me to the earth. Yet despite a lifelong journey of tempering my faith and acting out my call to service, I find myself unsure of my faith when i'm faced with the suggestion that the joyful bookshelf is the true christian bookshelf.
I'm writing for all of the people out there that, like me, feel a disconnect when they consider whether their faith is perhaps different because of a lack of cheerfulness. Maybe you also feel the same deep satisfaction, and call to discipleship and action, yet the simple disconnect stemming from a shallow definition of joy makes you wonder.
For some of us, music and books that emphasize cheerfulness in spirituality do the opposite of their intended purpose. Rather than being a reaffirming tool, they make us wonder why exactly we are on the outside. For those of you who feel the same way, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. It's my belief that God celebrates diversity, and that we each have our part to play in the church.
And I hope I'm right.