Finding God in Community
The spring thunderstorms have set my mind back to my youth. I watch the misty greyness creep in as the rolling thunder awakens in me a sense that a powerful universal force exists. Lightning pierces the melancholy clouds and lacerates the sky with its fierce power. It’s as if God is raging in the heavens above, until the clouds open and the fierceness turns to a cleansing grace which flows freely to earth allowing life and beauty to thrive.
My teenage years also flowed with grace that allowed life and beauty to thrive in me. I was nurtured by community and by dedicated leaders. I lived in a world filled with scripture stories, faith, and miracles. On a Book of Mormon Trek the summer after I turned sixteen, these scripture stories surrounded me in the form of handcarts and liahonas helping my youth group through the wilderness like Lehi’s family. Prophets appeared to tell their stories and miracles surrounded us at every bend. My leaders had put their heart and souls into planning a three-day trek that they hoped would be life-changing for those in their charge. And it was.
I sat in the forest alone after the prophet Enos had appeared. He sent us to pray and meditate on our own in the woods as he had done. My scriptures lay open on my lap as the thunder began to roll in. I looked up at the sky and smiled. I could feel raindrops slowly kissing my face. The smell of newness filled the air. Thunder crept closer to me, as if warning me of what was coming. Suddenly a boom shook the earth and the forest was consumed with fire. A sharp pain shot through my back and I fell to the ground. Through the chaos of people running down the mountain, I stumbled and was carried to a tent. The doctor came quickly and looked at my back. When he decided I was fine (just experiencing acute shock), he couldn’t hide his excitement over seeing an actual mark left by a lightning strike. He took a picture.
The Stake President and Bishop came in then to give me a blessing. Everyone in the tent could feel the power at that moment. I don’t remember exactly what my bishop said. It wasn’t so much a power of words, as it was a power of love and belief shared among humans. When they left the doctor checked my back, but the mark was gone. As a community, we felt the miracle in this event. No one else on that mountain was hurt. Through the storm, God had showed us power and grace. I spent my teenage years feeling wrapped in that blanket of grace, safe and secure.
From that environment of communal nurturing and growth came a strong and powerful faith. Over the years my faith has become more complex. I have gained a deeper understanding of experiences beyond my own. I have found knowledge that extends beyond my cultural conditioning. I see now that things aren’t as they always seemed to me when I was younger. Some might call the complexities of my faith “doubt,” but that word doesn’t describe it.
I have frequently been asked over the last few years, “So what do you believe?” I don’t have the words, or maybe the words are meaningless to someone who hasn’t experienced my journey. How do you describe what lightning feels like to someone who has never been hit by lightning? If I could just show you my faith. If you could see it, feel it, hear it, taste it…like running out into a thunderstorm, arms out, feeling energy flashing in the sky, the rain streaming down your face. If you could only know my faith the way I do. But you are in your safe shelter, watching the storm from a distance. All it is to you is a disturbance to your plans, a tempest when you want sunshine.
I don’t claim to know the form of God. Male, female, an old man with a beard, a king, a spirit, energy, embodied being, the evolutionary perfection of the human race, Elohim, Allah, Krishna…it doesn’t matter to me. God is perfect love. God is brightest light which opens the mind and fills it with knowledge and wisdom. God is energy to move in a positive and powerful way. God is grace.
I felt that grace as a young girl. I felt it through family, friends, and leaders. It kept me in the light. It moved me in a positive direction. It surrounded me with the power of love. I don’t feel like I am wrapped in a blanket of grace anymore. So I must generate grace within my own soul. God is in me. God is in the way I love, forgive, and connect with other people. God is in the way I accept my imperfect faith and move forward. God is in the way my heart tries to understand those who don’t understand me. I believe God’s power and grace can be found in lightning and miracles. God’s power and grace are in communities that nurture, build, and support each other. God’s power and grace are in a heart that is open to love. As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”