Being asked to reflect on one’s faith journey is somewhat like being asked to pose for a photo-shoot without a theme, sponsor, or audience. The temptation is to put one’s ‘best face forward,’ to search for the best ‘profile,’ or to mimic an inner emotion so as to seem ‘engaged’ or ‘authentic.’ Faith is all-encompassing, and at the same time one of the most invisible of our attributes. My own journey can best be described as an extended wandering through the mysterious landscape of learning and life to an ever-evolving awareness that “It’s all one.” So much of my early development centered on my over-heated curiosity as a precocious child who wanted to absorb the world entire. There was nothing too trivial to explore. With the passing of the years, my ‘focus’ migrated from paleontology (at age 6) to natural sciences, poetry, philosophy, and music (by my early thirties). As an intellectual Peter Pan, I never wanted to ‘grow up’ and find my fixed identity in the world of the mind or the world of work. I still don’t!
On the path of religious practice, I found my initial footing in the First Congregational Church, about 2 miles from my home. To this day, I can still recite all the books of the (“Protestant”) bible in order. My collection of perfect attendance pins for Sunday School adorned my sport coat for years. By the age of 17, I did what most overly analytic adolescents do—I left. It was not until I wandered into the energizing world of the Charismatic Renewal in the early seventies that I discovered a portal to an inner geography that could embrace intellectual passion with an innocently tender sense of God, and of God with me. The academic barriers between disciplines had always seemed narcissistic and ultimately useless to me. Now, the need to understand, to integrate intelligence and faith experience, began to lose its dominant fascination. I moved on from my doctoral program in literature at UC Berkeley, to theological studies at the Graduate Theological Union, but ‘knowing and loving,’ ‘knowledge and faith,’ and all the other ‘names that separate’ slowly merged into one another. My eclectic exodus across the great landscape of philosophy and theology, and my personal immersion in the reality of God, became a single surrender into vitality, inspiration, and wonder. I didn’t need to ‘believe’ in God anymore, since there were no longer categories to divide us.
Less than a decade later, my pilgrimage deposited me at the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Montecito, California. After nearly 35 years, the voyage continues, with each year providing a different nuance and color to the meaning of ‘faith.’ The practicalities of a conflicted church, ordained ministry, and a variety of ministerial roles have helped to further demythologize any remaining fantasies of faith and religion that might have served to separate me from the ‘really real’ which is God for/in me. The Body of Christ has become an absolutely incarnate truth in the faces and lives of people around the world, without any of the conceptual trappings so often used to dilute its utterly radical humanity.
Richard Rohr continually reminds us that it takes a ‘falling-into,’ or a radical surrender to, the purifying truth of a consuming love or dis-orienting suffering in order to enter the humbled dwelling of a mature spirituality or a life-in-religion. By the grace of God, I have known the empowering miracle of falling in love to the uttermost depths of my capacity for self-knowing or self-giving. In that crucible, I have learned that God is indeed a ‘refining fire,’ the purifying and liberating graciousness that asks nothing less than everything. When I could unreservedly share the loving gaze of another, God’s own peering into my soul could uncover a tender vessel ready to receive an ever-richer blessing of life’s possibility. Life could be fulfilled. My life could be lived without fear of death or failure, because love received and surrendered back is the only gift worth pursuing, the only completeness worth desiring. As Hopkins concludes in a magnificent early poem: “I have found the dominant of my range and state—Love, O my God, to call thee Love and Love.”
As I near my 70th year (in 2019), my walk in the ‘life of faith’ can best be described as simpler, more human, more tender, more abandoned to all that is real, more illuminated by all that love entails, and ever more amazed at the wonder of who God is and all we are created to become.
David C. Robinson, S.J., firstname.lastname@example.org