Fighting Our Way to Faith
For Jim Nixon, Rector of St. Catherine's Episcopal Church, faith is a unique journey for each of us.
Something many people don’t know about me is that I almost became an Episcopal priest. I spent five years of my life, from 1999 to 2004, discerning that call. I eventually gave it up, partly because my quest for answers only led to deeper and harder questions.
Seven years later, I am sitting across from another Episcopal priest, discussing my ongoing quest for Truth. Father Jim Nixon, Rector of St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church on Holt Road, easily understands the road I have travelled.
“Sometimes people ask me what I learned when I went to seminary,” he says. “I answer that I learned that things aren’t black and white; there’s a whole lot of gray, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to hammer that out.”
Fr. Jim possesses a warm and disarming personality, yet the language he uses to describe the faith journey evokes a struggle – something with which I readily identify. My own struggle began long before I ever considered the priesthood. Having once held very rigid religious views, I have regularly torn down my religious concepts to see if they would bear the weight of scrutiny when reassembled.
Fr. Jim calls this “theology meeting life.”
“Inevitably, in that meeting together, there will come a time when that theology no longer answers the questions of life,” he says. “For many people, theology is built on the assumption that, if you believe certain things, everything will be okay. But it usually doesn’t work out that way. When theology gets tested – when life delivers something that can’t easily be answered by that theology, then people experience a crisis, and that’s when people often begin to look for something more comprehensive.”
“Faith requires us to hammer out the realty of life, and to reconcile that reality with a faith system that works.”
Reflecting on what Fr. Jim has said, I find that I agree. However, much of my struggle has been intellectual. I relate to him times when, day after day, I would go for long walks during which I would “wrestle” with God, with all of my beliefs. Much of this involved working my beliefs out logically, considering everything from quantum physics and astronomy to the nature of consciousness.
Fr. Jim admonishes me. “I don’t think you’ll ever think your way to faith,” he says. “There has to be a ‘heart’ component as well. But the heart can be dangerous; it can mislead us at times. There has to be a tension between the two.”
I recognize that he is correct about this. It is a tendency of mine to overanalyze things. Fr. Jim suggests that one way to overcome such a barrier is by seeking faith in community.
“Much of Christianity is about the ‘Christ in me’ recognizing the ‘Christ in you.’ If I only see Christ in myself, or if I fail to see Christ in myself, then I will have a very limited perspective.”
While Fr. Jim acknowledges that many people are “still living out the theology of their parents,” for others, faith is a journey – often one that is long and arduous.
“Very few people find their faith in an instant,” he says. “We have to fight our way there. And there isn’t any one straight line from here to there. It wanders all over the place.”
In his experience, the wandering path is not the exception; it is the norm. None of us are in a fixed position. All of us are on a journey.
“But when I stand in the pulpit on Sunday and say ‘wherever you are in your journey, you are welcome here,’ I want everyone to know that I sincerely mean it.”