As Christmas approaches I start to ponder this question more and more. In reality I have been asking myself this question for the past 10 years.
Why is this so difficult for me to answer? For 48 years I was a devout Anglican. I went to church every Sunday and to a large degree my social life and my church life were totally intertwined. Making teas, belonging to a cell group, getting involved in charitable functions were part of my everyday life and I never thought to question my faith.
Anglicans are sometimes referred to as the "frozen chosen" by those who dislike the formal order of service, the "smells and bells" and the traditional music and of course our liking for our favourite pew week after week. I like the structure, the formality and the silence before services. It gives me time to collect my thoughts and focus. I am inspired by the powerful music produced by an accomplished organist and choir and although my singing leaves a lot to be desired I love to participate in the beautiful old hymns.
Modern charismatic churches with noisy bands, everyone jumping in and interrupting and participating at will unsettle me. I can't focus or concentrate. No, this is not old age making me crabby. Over the years I have tried many different denominations but if there is no structure (that I can understand) I am lost. The service becomes meaningless.
After my divorce in 2002 I moved to Cape Town and I immediately sought out my local Anglican Church as a place to find solace. Ironically the sermon preached at the first service I attended was on the evils of divorce and being the "guilty" party in my own divorce left me feeling more alone and devastated than ever. I persevered however for 6 weeks, quietly crying through every service yet no-one came to comfort me. I filled in the newcomer slip and asked for a visitor. What I received instead was a package in the post asking me how much I would tithe.
My rock-solid faith started to wane and along with many other changes in my life I started to question my faith. I am being judged by a church and people who don't know me or my circumstances. I am a "fallen woman" and need to be saved. Where is the loving God that I have always believed in?
As part of my journey I joined a Philosophy School. We met once a week for 2 hours in a very non-judgemental, unpressured environment. No questions were asked about why you were there, what work you did, what religion (if any) you followed, your marital status or any other personal information. You were gently welcomed and if you wished to participate you could or you could simply sit quietly and absorb the topic for the week.
It was there that I learned to meditate, to live in the present and most importantly to stop judging others. Each of us had our own reasons for being there and we learned to accept each other for who we are.
If someone asked a question pertaining to their own personal belief system, they were not ridiculed but were simply asked to think about why they held that particular belief. In our class we had Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and those of no specific faith.
Instead of getting involved in external charitable causes we would spend occasional days cleaning windows, gardening and other maintenance at the beautiful big old house that had been renovated and converted into the Philosophy School. All the work had been done by people like me on a voluntary basis as part of our own personal journey.
Preparing a meal together was an amazing experience. The large kitchen could accommodate up to 25 people and we would work in silence focusing on slicing tomatoes, washing lettuce and laying out platters of beautiful fresh breads, cheeses and fruits. You could be in the middle of slicing a tomato and you would be asked to put down your knife and let someone else takeover and you would move onto another task. It was all about letting go of our egos and laying claim to something that was not ours but simply part of a whole.
Many of my Christian friends and some family believed I had been abducted by a cult. They chose not to try and understand. Perhaps I couldn't explain it well enough.
Paradoxically I had become far more spiritual and started to read my bible with a greater understanding than I had ever had.
So, am I a Christian? Was I ever truly a Christian or was I simply practising what I had learned as a child? Did I go to church simply for the fellowship and music?
I believe Christ existed and I pray regularly in private. Often my prayers are answered, sometimes in unexpected ways. I tend to pray to God (or perhaps some higher being) rather than to Christ. I don't know why.
I try to live a life filled with love and compassion for others and try not to lie, swear too much, covet others belongings, steal and hopefully I will not kill anyone. I love my children, my husband and all my extended family to the best of my ability.
I abhor violence and cannot understand these religious wars. I also cannot understand why I need to live in fear of God and that I need to be saved or I will go to hell.
It was extremely distressing for me to watch my mother who had the deepest, simplest and most sincere faith suffer terribly in her last few weeks because she could not let herself go in peace until she had been forgiven by a close family member for something she perceived herself to be guilty of. Mom was the most amazing selfless woman and no matter how much she was told otherwise she felt judged by God.
So, am I a Christian who just can't go to church? Am I just a drifter taking the bits I want and not prepared to commit?
These are questions I continue to ask myself as I sing carols that I hear playing on the radio.
I continue to search for answers.
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