When my parents moved to Phoenix with young Children it was very important to them to enroll us in swimming lessons. Safety was, of course, a large concern but there was also the social aspect. To be unable to swim in the city was to be a leper at summer parties and various hang outs. As a result they made certain we learned well and my brothers and I are comfortable, though perhaps not graceful, in any aquatic environment.
I have been thinking about a metaphor this week. I grew up in the Church, and became a Christian in Junior High. Through Young Life in college I was made aware of the mission of the Church and the means to carry it out in a way I had never before imagined. Years later I went to Seminary and have in the process discovered a call to be a pastor, not to mention the depth and complexity that Scripture, Tradition and the Lord represent.
You see, growing up, I was aware of the waters of faith. I became able to swim when I was in college and I believed myself to be pretty good at it. Yet I was always in the shallow end of the pool, just barely dangling my toes off the edge. This is not to pass judgement on that season in my faith, I belonged in the shallow end, I couldn’t handle myself in rougher seas. Following a significant loss in my life after college I found myself thrown into the deep end, sputtering, gasping and coughing for air in heretofore unknown environment. It was a time of great crisis, confusing pain and all I could do was tread water and hope for some sight of land. I wondered if there was a God, if He existed if He was even good at all, and whether or not He was harming me on purpose, knowing just where to hurt me. I didn’t even know that the deep end existed.
Seminary has been the discovery that the Christian life is no safe swimming pool but rather a deep ocean, in which I have only been wading thus far. Through my professors, excellent books, the Bible, Prayer and the Psalms in particular I have slowly learned to swim. Indeed I have grown to be strong and confident, unconcerned by the possibility of monsters below the surface. Filled with a sense of adventure when I go far from land and any safe reference point or easy answers, yet able to return without losing myself amid the waves. It is here, in this season, that I have begun to appreciate books in the wisdom tradition in the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures. Here I find books like Job which ask questions and raise troubling issues, all the while shooting down pat religious answers or simple cliches about the nature of God. I am learning the difference between floating and diving deep. I am learning the difference between defending him and preaching the good news about him. I am learning to grow comfortable with tension and live into the vast mystery that an infinite God represents.