having faith in a faithless world

Originally published in MEDIUM

CJ SHANNON

Jul 13, 2019 · 6 min read

“glimpses of heaven” © 2019 Carol Joy Shannon

I didn’t always talk with people about God. In fact, only in the last few years have I been talking with anyone outside my family about God, let alone total strangers. It’s been revelatory, and maybe not in the ways you might think.

There are a number of caveats in this observation and the first is that I do not proselytize. Ever. I wouldn’t know where to begin to try to convince someone to believe in anything. But I have a personal relationship with God which directs much of what I do, including the way I feed my family which is painting. (You wouldn’t necessarily know about that from my paintings, but I hope they are blessings to my collectors.)

The other caveat is that I am not even close to being a righteous person. I’m as flawed as any person between 50 and 100 has a right to be. And I didn’t always have this personal relationship with God. I spent many decades trying to prove He didn’t exist. It made my self-indulgences easier to excuse if there were no rules. This last, of course, is why everyone wants to believe there is no God, but more on that another time.

One of the joys of age is that you can observe your own life in large segments, and not just as a series of events. And a few years back I began to realize how things which had seemed like strokes of luck at the time were probably God rescuing my sorry ass from another bad decision. Because God always has a better plan for us than we have for ourselves. And if we’re open to that, He likely also has a purpose.

So, along the way, as you think you are living your life making your own decisions, God may now and then give you a nudge in the right direction. Maybe put a person in front of you with an option that, if chosen, will keep your feet on a more solid path. Mike Lindell, the “My Pillow” guy, calls them “pegs;” little legs up to help you not fail. If you’re a secular pragmatist, these “opportunities” are just luck. But if you’re a pragmatic believer you eventually see them for what they really are, little nudges from God.

To what purpose, you ask. What could God ever need from us? We’ve all asked God “what do you want from me?!” whether we believed in Him or not. Right? And some of us have asked it of Him many times, not always in jest or anger.

Thirty-five years ago when my son’s father was dying of cancer I asked that question a lot. And one time, perhaps because I asked in a different way, God told me it was preparation for something in the future. There’s been plenty of “no God in my life” years in between, but that was seared in my brain for a long while, because we don’t always get answers from God.

The other time God answered me was in that same time period, before I knew my husband was dying. He’d become a raging alcoholic and a little psychotic, and one morning I just fell on my knees, literally on the floor, and asked God what to do.

“Nothing” was the word that filled my mind.

Immediately.

Do nothing.

It didn’t seem like enough, but it was very clear, so I took that as the whole answer. But I was also still a smartass in those days, so I “gave God 6 weeks.”

If my husband didn’t pull it together in 6 weeks, I’d go to Plan B, whatever that was.

In less than 2 weeks, we all found out that my husband had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and 3 weeks to 3 months to live. He lived the whole 3 months. Imagine how horrible if I’d just left, instead of falling down and begging God for direction. I started paying more attention after that.

But after that I also had to deal with being a young widow with a little kid, so I felt sorry for myself. And while I didn’t “blame God,” per se, I nonetheless tuned Him out for a decade, self-medicating instead.

Evidently, though, God still had a plan, and perhaps even a purpose for me yet, because I’m still here. In the ensuing decades I learned to listen to God more and more, and things in my own life now have a simplicity of direction. I just ask God. What’s the worst that can happen? If God doesn’t answer, I trust the skills I’ve developed, and my instincts. But if I listen carefully, I often get “nudges.”

C.S. Lewis was an incredible witness for faith. He was brilliant, for starters. And he was an intellectual in the truest sense. And for a large part of his life, in between periods of faith — he was an atheist. He was able to argue against the idea of a God with his great big brain, and he did. But in the end, he realized he couldn’t. It made no sense at all. There are at least a half dozen of his books which make the case for God.

But he once said something along the lines that people spend lifetimes and enormous effort trying to find something other than God to believe in. Think about that, and about the people you know and how they fill up their lives. And the reasons they give for those things; the things which make us feel good about ourselves. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Seinfeld would say.

There’s a reason AA says you have to “believe in a higher power” to kick an addiction. There’s a reason people pray when they’re scared. But a “higher power” is poo-pooed by the intellectual elite. God is for the smaller minds. But we’ll leave that conceit for another day. Or a C.S. Lewis book.

I still don’t know what sort of world God was preparing me for in that earlier time, when I asked and got an answer. But for the present, I occasionally talk with people about God. God just comes up. The gallerist I work with says that’s my calling. Maybe so. Many of my paintings have prayers in them; you can’t see them, but you get the blessings anyway.

You know that unexpected result I mentioned earlier? It’s this: a lot of people believe in God. A lot more than you would think. (If you live in New England or LA you probably think no one believes in God at all.) And if we’re speaking in a general, conversational way they will share this. In some cases, people talk about God like we used to talk about drugs, sotto voce — as if God were illegal. Which, in America in the 21st Century isn’t far from the truth. But again, a conversation for another time.

Our ancestors all believed in God and gods. They fought over them. Fought about how to worship them. Wars were waged and diasporas launched because of them. Crops and health were prayed for, and God was thanked or blamed. But few people questioned the concept altogether.

That came with science. Science has been the anti-God. With a few centuries of science under its collective belt, mankind was prepared to dismiss God. Not needed. Thanks, but no thanks. Science has an explanation for everything. If there is no explanation, someone gets a grant and studies it until there is. Except that science has a funny way of proving God. There is always the part they “just don’t know.”

And, unpopular as He is in the intellectual world, many scientists believe in God. They just don’t talk about it. They don’t want to be ridiculed by their peers.

So why on earth would I ever talk with total strangers about God? It has to do with my art. I feel that my art these days comes from God. I ask Him all the time to guide my hands and direct my work. The results are statement pieces which speak to people. And when they ask me what I was thinking, I have to tell them. So, maybe that is my mission in this godless world. Maybe the gallery owner is right.

The other reason I feel the need to talk about God is that almost no one does, and we have ended up with a society which has few rules, almost no consequences for actions, the idea that a person himself is the center of his own universe, curious levels of situational ethics, and practically no morality whatsoever.

We’re stunned when someone finds a lost wallet and returns it untouched. We are thrilled with good samaritans who risk their own safety for others. We expect police and military to protect us but criticize them if they “hurt” people. Everyone wants to have it all, with no restraints.

So God is simply inconvenient. And so last century.

Except for those of us who do believe. And we are all around you, whether you believe it or not. Just like God.

About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is time, the joys of no demands on it.
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