Though I am a member of the local church where I was raised, I feel that I best fit into this allegedly growing demographic that some culture monitors call the “nones.” These are people who claim no official ties to a denomination or congregation yet consider themselves people of active Christian faith.
I get lost in the terminology—postmodern, emergent, neo-monastic, anarcho-primitivist, house church, intentional community, missional community, ect. The books, websites, and seminars where this language is born serve as both public representations and facilitators of cultural movements. At the most basic level, the jargon reflects different limbs of the Church asking the same questions about how to practice life in Christ.
My own study, prayer, and practice have certainly taken shape under the influence of larger thought patterns. After all, we are all individual actors living within complex systems of influence that shift with the ages. It is precisely for this reason, in fact, that we must wed ourselves to the treasure and truth of the Scriptures, allowing the story of God’s saving action in the world to form our identity and guide our lives. To this end, I have found myself reflecting often on Psalm 131, which is a fitting prayer for a generation of restless skeptics. Here it is:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
My eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
Too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever more.
Hebrew scholar Robert Alter describes the first four lines of this psalm as “images of reaching beyond.” How fittingly this describes the striving and stirring of many believing young adults. We move from place to place and group to group, looking for a sense of belonging. We promote our ideas and ministries hoping to gain a feeling of satisfaction. We debate with others and perpetually question ourselves, waiting for validation or peace of mind. Much of this behavior flows from our legitimate effort, as individuals and as a body, to understand the faith we have inherited and how it relates to our experiences.
Often in these efforts, however, we do not realize that we are reaching beyond the source. This is where the psalmist introduces the image of a weaned baby. A weaned child no longer receives the nourishment she craves. Milk no longer flows at her desire, so she fusses and cries. She does not understand. But eventually she learns to rest against the source itself. Calmed and quite, she knows the presence, goodness, and love of her mother, even if her belly still hungers.The psalm’s closing line admonishes Israel to hope in (or wait for) the Lord with contentment, trust, and intimate familiarity with Yahweh.
My prayer for myself and my generation is the same. We are skeptical that our questions can be answered, but hopefully this attitude will lead us deeper into the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. Like babies, we fuss and squirm and start smoking and quit going to church, but hopefully older generations will bear with us and be for us the patient presence of the One who is truth and provides rest. Because of injustice and systemic evils, we pout with God and try to recreate him to our liking; but hopefully we will find the humble clarity to see our blunders and trust his goodness.
Hopefully we will learn not to lift our eyes to lofty doctrines or new philosophies for comfort. Instead may we lean against our Father. From beneath the verbiage of our age, he invites to know him and hope in him even when he withholds from us the answers and direction we desire.