Today I am thrilled to share a beautiful and challenging guest post from my friend David Henson.
David received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalist. He is currently a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and writing his first book. David is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student. He blogs here, and you can find him on Facebook and Twitter. He enjoys hearing from anyone who reads his work, especially, but not exclusively, if they like it.
When my faith foundered, the voices echoing the Nicene Creed in the cavernous halls of an ornate Episcopal church in Alabama caught me. Buoyed by the voices of the saints past and present in that parish, I felt my faith picked up at the seams and pinned to angels who carried me over canyons of doubt. It was as if, unable to reach toward heaven on my own, the confident voices of those around me raised my own voice like a marionette doll, awkward, but vaguely human.
The Creed saved my faith. It saved me.
Now, though, I wonder how many of those strong voices that I felt had carried me in my weakness relied on me just the same. And, maybe, this is the true beauty of the Creed, not that all those past and present raised their voices in utter faith and bold assurance of things unseen. Perhaps it is in the feeble offerings of each voice, giving strength to the crippled, cracked cries of the next, that the Creed's true power lies. That every time we say the Creed together, we create our faith together, spinning it out of the thin, stained light, the musty, moth-eaten faith of our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters.
How ephemeral this faith is, shimmering on quivering voices, threatening to disappear with its images of God and to leave behind only the smell of stale coffee breath and peppermint gum.
When we affirm our faith with the Creed, are we really simply affirming our faith in the faith of others, past, present and future?
Yet, out of such a beautiful, farcical facade, faith and community can be created, like gold from straw.
Currently, there is a popular video about the Nicene Creed circulating in my social media circles that implores Christians not to be "robots" when they say Creed, but rather to make it "real," whatever that means. I think it's a well meaning, but ultimately misguided, attempt to make the Creed relevant and interesting to today's generation. Most troubling, the video edits the Nicene Creed's most important word, changing "We believe" into "I believe." In effect, it transforms a communal creed whose meaning is built upon the historic confession of Christians for centuries into a personal one whose meaning is built upon how an individual feels about that confession at any given moment. It robs the Nicene Creed of its power and authority and forces it to submit to latent individualism.
But the Nicene Creed transcends individual belief. It transcends my doubt and your doubt, our skepticism and our disbelief because it is dependent on something much greater than the whims of our conflicted and troubled minds.
Some days, the Nicene Creed is transcendent. On other days, there's not much left in the it that I believe as I once did, with the conviction that would make it "real" as the video implores. It's not so much that I've dismantled the deep mysterious myths and stories of the virgin birth, the resurrection, the one baptism for forgiveness of sins, the existence of one holy, catholic and apostolic faith. Rather it's that I have realized that these true mysteries of the Christian faith have little to do with how I feel about the content of such stories. On those days when I disbelieve, I proudly proclaim I am nothing more than a robot mumbling through the Creed and allowing the voices of the saints past, present and future wash over me, like a salve, not to restore my faith in belief, but my faith in community. In these moments, I am much more aware that the community of the church is so much more than the sacred stories that bind us together. And, that somewhere between the two— my faith and the historic faith — lies something holy.
It is as fragile as decaying lace. And as beautiful, too.
But it is a beauty tinged with a curse. As the pious above chant of the God begotten of Light, the unfaithful faithful call out in ragged whispers their own stories of Inquisitions, of lost political battles at important councils of faith, of unjust executions in the name of the Christ and of excommunications to shore up power. And, then, there are the ones who could not manage to say some form of the Creed, or say it convincingly enough, and found themselves on the coal-black end of a burning stake. They are God's children, exiled by the Creed, Christians made non-Christian when the faith was forced through the sieve of statecraft. They are our forefathers and mothers of the faith, crucified for unity, now calling out for resurrection.
The recent video sanctimoniously reminds viewers that "some saints have sacrificed their lives in defense of this Creed." We would do well to remember how many heretics — real or imagined — were made to sacrifice their own lives because of it, too.
So, I mumble the Creed with reluctant lips and an eager heart, begging forgiveness for it even as I am healed by it.
Still, I confess it every Sunday, regardless of how real it seems, because what itrepresents — the faith of the historic church — is so much larger than my feelings about.
The Creed saved my faith, completely, and it continues to as I limp along the path of Christ. But I can't help but feel that sometimes, it damns me just as fully.