It’s Like God Is Talking to Me

by Jen Owens

“Okay, listen. I read this part in the Bible the other day, and I have a problem with it. It was like, what was it? It was like, God listens to the prayers of the good ones, and God doesn’t listen to the prayers of the evil ones. What’s that about?”

I listened as my co-leader explained to Adam* that in God’s eyes, all of us are good, that God listens to all of our prayers. That the trick of evil is to let us think that we are in that image, not God’s image. My co-leader had distilled one of the primary messages of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in just a few sentences. But even more amazing to me was how quickly Adam received that response; his openness to that message was inspiring to me.

Our Bible study in juvenile hall went on, and Adam had more questions. As we were talking, I pointed his attention to the last lines of next Sunday’s psalm,

The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.

“It’s like the question you were asking before, Adam, see? God is always with us, with arms outstretched, waiting for us to call upon God in return.”

Adam leaned in a little bit and said conspiratorially, “I love reading the Bible. It’s like, I open my Bible, and God is talking directly to me.”

With everything that has gone on my spiritual life since I have been at divinity school, I decided that I would take some time this summer to reconnect with the ministries that made me passionate about this work to begin with. At the start of the summer, I began singing at my church again, and more recently, I began volunteering at juvenile hall. As often is the case with service efforts, I find myself gaining more than I could ever put forth in my conversations with the young men I’ve met there.

Walking back to my car tonight, I was struck by two things. First, I was mindful of the fact that I could walk out of there, that I could leave the noise and lack of privacy that characterizes the unit behind. Second, I was reminded of what my spiritual life has looked like over the past several months. I’ve blogged about my disappointment in the institutional church in the past, and as positive as my experiences of my local parishes have been, I am deeply saddened by the stumbling blocks that particular aspects of church teaching, especially about gender and sexuality, have become. When it comes down to it, I heard the same message from the institutional church that prompted Adam to ask his question–You are not good enough to belong. Stepping back from the situation just enough to have a clearer view of it, I realize that this message is sinful. These aspects of church teaching have become stumbling blocks because they get in the way of my relationship with God, encourage me to believe what I know in my heart is a lie.

My prayer for today is that God would be able to show me how to continue the healing process between the institutional church and me. And I offer up prayers of thanksgiving for the gift of young people like Adam, whose passion for the fundamentals of our faith inspire me and encourage me to keep going.

*Pseudonyms are used.

Jen Owens is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back. She looks forward to Wednesday night Bible studies with the young men in Orange County’s juvenile hall and will continue blogging about them through the end of the summer.

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2 Responses

  1. Jen,
    Your reflections on your experiences at Juvy have brought back so many memories of my volunteering at Central during our LMU Sursum days…I’ve been reflecting on those Sundays at Juvy a lot this year. I didn’t know then just how transformational those experiences would be for me and my spirituality. Blessings to you and the young men and women you will encounter there!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing that with me, Tefi! I really appreciate it. I feel similarly–I had no idea that my worldview and my spirituality would shift so much during the time that I spent in service and justice work, but I’m so grateful for the dynamic way that that process happens. Peace be with you, my dear.

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