Doing the dishes on a Sunday night, I listen to a podcast called The Liturgists. The only substitute for church I can bear these days. They talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of evangelical Christianity; there is a lot of sophisticated trash-talking of Christian practice, which I find very comforting. This time they have the wonderful Father Richard Rohr on, a wise, kind Franciscan monk who has written a lot of great books I’ve been meaning to read. I’m a bad reader. Rohr talks about the fact that a lot of ex-Christians can’t stand the church anymore because they feel betrayed by their faith. And because of this trauma they have built up a defence mechanism against everything they once believed. The self-protection is actually a lack of trust and so Rohr proposes to stop using the word ‘faith’ altogether for the next 20 years and use the word ‘trust’ instead.
I let a half-rinsed plate sink back into the lukewarm dishwater. The word ‘trust.’
I remember being at a Christian conference in 2011 in Vienna; at an international gathering of passionate evangelicals praying for Europe to awaken to Jesus message of love and peace. Like so many times before I was here not only as a guest but as a translator. This gave me free entry but I also really enjoyed being right at the center of things, on stage, and, yes, showing off my language skills.
It was always a huge responsibility to translate a pastor on stage in front of several hundred people. But once you got into a groove with the speaker, it usually flowed nicely. He said a sentence, I said a sentence. He made a joke, I made a joke. Just in German.
I met that day’s speaker just before the evening gathering, a tall Swede in his late 50s, with bright blue eyes and unruly hair, called Tommie. He was doing part humanitarian, part missionary work in Macedonia and radiated a calm, joyful presence. I introduced myself and we sat on a bench right by the side of the stage. As he had arrived late, he’d missed the usual prayer time for every everyone involved before the gathering. We had already prepared ourselves, asking God to give us the presence of mind to say the right things, to “tune into” the Holy Spirit. Now a band was playing some folky Jesus ballads, massaging our hearts and making them receptive to God’s words. Tommie turned to me and asked if we could say a quick prayer before he went on stage. I agreed. So we bowed our heads, Tommie folded his big hands and quietly started praying out loud, in simple, loving word.
“God, we ask you to shine through us, let your love and mercy comfort and heal everyone present today.”
I nodded in agreement. Just a couple more sentences and Tommie had said all that was necessary and then simply put his hand on his heart and whispered,
“Thank you, Jesus… we trust you, we trust you, we trust you.”
My throat immediately closed up and I had to swallow hard to not burst out crying.
What was happening? I knew it wasn’t because of the prayer. I knew it was that word ‘trust.’ It had unleashed something but I wasn’t quite clear as to what. I had used the word many times myself, even in prayer. But something in Tommie’s voice, his complete certainty in God’s goodness, made me ache. I didn’t know you could, for one long moment, so wholly bury your sarcasm and doubt.
I wanted that, too. To walk into an embrace without the shadow of a doubt that it would hold me. To set my feet on a piece of ground that made me feel safe and free at once. This desire was incredibly strong. And it frightened me how overwhelming it felt. Despite knowing and practicing the tenets of the bible, despite praying and reflecting on it every day, there was something deeper, more fundamental that had echoed inside me. Was it maybe trust I was after, and not God?
This is what I was thinking of, doing the dishes, 7 years later. Richard Rohr’s suggestion made complete sense to me. What would my life sound like if I replaced those words?
It would should like, “I lost my trust”.
“I stepped away from my trust.”
“I don’t have trust anymore.”
Everything sounded so much more devastating. Losing your faith sounded like something you could survive; losing trust did not. I wondered how many other people lived without trust.
And what would it take to get it back? If I wanted to get back my faith, I’d know what to do. I’d find a church I could tolerate, I’d start reading some bible passages I liked, the ones I could intellectually justify. I would ask my Christian friends to pray that God would give me faith again. And they would do so gladly, excited that I was finally ready to return.
But how would I go about getting back my trust? I wasn’t sure. All I knew was I wanted it back.