My experience of organized religion and an active spiritual life has often meant accepting ambiguity. I have never doubted the presence and the work of the Creator. Instead, I have doubted my own ability to understand that presence and to live with it, especially when the full meaning of that presence remains evasive. Yet this inherent discord, which seems natural and necessary, is, in my view, a pretty good claim for faith.
Faith is the realm that asks us to think, to work, to be active, to be patient, and to accept our entry into the unknown. We blindly agree something will come of it, even if what comes is wholly inscrutable. What a strange task to grab hold of! And yet, if I look around where I live and reflect on my upbringing, there seems no greater task. We should, after all, be seeking fulfilling lives—understanding the purpose of our lives and making something useful of them. But how many people in our troubled world really enjoy the privilege of leisurely entertaining such thoughts? That cuts me down a notch or two. I could ponder such matters for a long time. At some point, though, you have to get going and see what happens, a predicament not unlike that faced by a poet staring at an empty page.
I was raised in a Disciples of Christ church, a denomination that split from the Presbyterians in the early 1800s during the Second Great Awakening. I like to think the Disciples of Christ is a frontier denomination, parallel in many ways to the founding and design of our country—independent and separate. The Disciples of Christ was also founded in Kentucky, our nation’s first frontier state, and a state my ancestors settled, so my affiliation with this denomination is natural and inherited from many generations of my family.
When I was growing up, going to church was simply part of life. I took it seriously and I valued it. As an adult, however, I have strived to maintain an active faith, rather than a specific affiliation. That means I’ve spent a lot of time searching. I have attended churches of many stripes: various evangelical churches (including Holiness churches), Southern Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, and Catholic. In my early twenties, I was a graduate student and lived in a one-room schoolhouse that had been converted to a humble residence. Living there, I attended what I like to call a country Catholic church, a church in rural Kentucky absent of all formality, one that included congregants who were local farmers and Hispanic immigrants. I truly felt at home at that church. No fanfare, no adornment to be seen.
Since then I’ve preferred a plain approach in the churches I’ve attended. Our family currently attends a small Catholic church that was originally founded as an African-American parish. Although my wife and I have not officially converted to Catholicism, our somewhat renegade priest happily baptized our young daughter. It’s all a rough fit, I’m afraid, and some of that probably has to do with my temperament; some of it is also connected to my inclinations as a poet.