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Not all those who wander are lost

By Randy Weeks

A healthy community of faith is a holy chalice that contains the richness and beauty of its diversity, with love for all and encouragement to pursue spiritual maturity. A healthy community of faith fosters and nurtures the divine spark within us all. In a healthy community of faith, we learn and practice spiritual traditions and disciplines that are vehicles for the process of becoming whole. We learn to ask questions and to even challenge long-held beliefs in our quest to discover how, and sometimes if, we can claim those beliefs as our own.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be a part of a healthy faith community. We all know someone whose bad experiences have led them to reject some, if not all, groups that promote spiritual growth in the context of community. Many leave one Christian denomination for another, while others leave the religion of their youth for another religion, a more self-directed spiritual path, or no particular faith at all.

Weeks

I have been fortunate to have been a part of two Baptist fellowships in Mississippi that gave me very little that was not good. The first, Madison Baptist Church (now First Baptist Madison), was the church of my childhood and youth. Our pastors and youth leaders taught love and caring, along with responsibility. They were gentle and kind toward me, gifting me with a spiritual foundation that was not infected by the condemnation and judgment that many experienced.

The second fellowship that sustained me came along in 1989 when I found myself wandering in a spiritual wilderness. After 15 years of training and full-time work as a church musician, I needed a new direction for my life. I found myself ruminating over past failures and being paralyzed by shame. Thankfully, I knew I needed a safe place to heal and to, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.”

My journey was just that: my journey. No one could walk that road for me. But I needed the companionship of others who were also on a spiritual quest. I became a part of a nearby fellowship of like-minded people who were known for their honesty, integrity, and commitment to living the teachings of Jesus, even when the cost was high. They embraced me and gave me the space to do my spiritual work in the ways I needed to. They provided safety, nurturance, and opportunity for me, as I went about the business of seeking truth and meaning again.

Within that fellowship, I experienced the freedom to, for the first time in my adult life, be my authentic self. I was given license to explore, question and even fall flat on my face without fear of judgment and desertion. I formed connections with other fellow strugglers and we supported each other as we traveled along our unique spiritual paths, unified as a living organism committed to being Jesus’ hands and feet in this world.

In the context of this gathering of pilgrims, I found my North Star. My focus shifted from looking behind to looking forward. I knew that I would come out of the wilderness and be a better man for having been there.

I’m sure there are others who, like me, in their time of great need found renewed hope in the fellowship of kindred spirits, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other truth-seeker. These faithful friends were conduits of the divine grace that would not let me sell myself short, rather challenged me to risk something big for something good.

On May 6 and 7, I will worship with my family of faith at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of a singular church, born in turbulent times for the purpose of being the Living Word. I will give thanks for a people and a place that welcomed this wounded and weary wanderer with open arms and taught me anew what it meant to follow Jesus.

Everyone needs a light in the darkness. May we all be graced with a healthy faith community that will hold our hand and help us discover that Light.

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

– J. R. R. Tolkien

Randy Weeks is a minister and a counselor. He lives and writes in Oxford. He can be reached at peacemill369963@gmail.com.