Faith Matters - Passenger

I am not an atheist. I can't remember a time in my life when that was a se­rious consideration. From time to time I have read the travel brochures, but I have never been tempted to purchase a ticket. Time out of mind, I booked pas­sage on another ship on which I have been traveling my whole life. Before I knew what it was to know, inclinations were planted within me that, when the time was right, led me to the ticket agent and, for an exchange of considerations, I boarded and found my seat with the others.

If opinion research is to be believed, it is a ship with many passengers. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Americans say that they are on board. Polls reveal that about 90 percent of our fellow citizens say they believe in God. To be sure, the polls also reveal that only about 36 percent of that same group attends worship at least once each month. The current cliché is “I am spiritual but not religious.” Belief is one thing, behavior is an­other, spirit and flesh ever the uneasy companions.  

The ship stops from time to time to board and discharge. Sometimes I prefer the cabin and sometimes the deck. Across open seas and in port, through calm and storm, as human and natural disasters scroll in and out of view, I see things through the windows, and I hear things around me that have me checking my ticket. I beg what I need from other passengers. I give what I can when others ask. The ship is full in both joy and heartache. Nevertheless, my faith-doubt struggles invariably return me to the same starting point. I find myself standing with Simon Peter: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”  

Boarding this vessel is not the end of faith as much as the beginning. I con­sider what evidence I might offer to prove that I have been a passenger. I ponder worship attendance, bank statements, resume, the witness of friends, the testimony of family, the times I said "yes," the times I said "no," and the times I said nothing. Works do not save, of course, but I should be able to lay some harvest of the spirit upon the table. In any case, a search for fruit is an invitation to hu­mility of spirit. There is no way to take that test but to bend the knee of the heart.  

The memory of a beloved colleague pulls up a chair and makes itself at home. I find myself entertaining the longer thoughts. What sticks in my head, God knows why, is an ancient invitation or, more particularly, a plea:  "I am offering you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live." It was once issued to wilderness trav­elers in search of their promised home. Perhaps it is heard most clearly by those in search of home. Our choice pretty much determines whether we get there or continue to wander. Life and blessing were the choices of my colleague. He was a member of the crew on this ship. I breathe in the inspiration of his well done.  

I consider what it means to choose life and not death, blessing and not curse. I am quite certain that it is a choice not made once and done. There is always a response to be made to what I see from the deck and what I learn from the other passengers. But desiring to make the choice for life does not necessarily make it so. Often as not, I get it wrong.  

The desire to choose life and not death begins in a mysterious center, a deep interior room, where all that is true about us makes itself known. It is the place where the sighs too deep for words are born. Sometimes it is seen in that partial disguise that we call our character. The choice for life and not death is made in the thoughts, in the imagination, in the dreams, in what we do and fail to do, in what we bless and what we curse. It is the "I" that is always in need of re­demption, always in need of perfecting, always in need of forgiveness, and always in need of companions.  

In silent wonder, I glance around at my fellow passengers. I call to mind the others, here and gone, seen and unseen, remembered and forgotten, friends on earth and friends above, and I smile. From that mysterious center I am overtaken by an unspeak­able gratitude for the ones who helped me hear the invitation to board this ship. They live in sacred memory. That gratitude is also for those still with me on board, those who sustain and encourage me with their grace, their wisdom and their integrity. I cannot make this voyage alone.    

My hand reaches into my pocket to close around a well-worn ticket. Until we make port, there is more life and blessing to choose.  

God’s peace.

Chuck Johns

By: Reverend Chuck Johns On 6/1/2009