The legend of the Phoenix has it that there is a creature who lives for a thousand years. Once its lifespan is complete, it builds its own funeral pyre, and throws itself into the flames. As it dies, it is reborn anew, and rises from the ashes to live another 1000 years.
What has that got to do with Christianity? For me, it is a fantastic analogy of my faith journey over the last 3 years. It feels as though I have been a Christian forever. As far as forever is concerned, for me – all 26 years of it – that is true. Forever can feel like 1000 years, even when it is only as short as 26!
About 4 years ago I began to seriously question the validity of my own faith. I began to tear out whole sections of my beliefs and throw them on to the fire. I watched as they burned. One by one I threw away my opposition to homosexuality and universalism, my frameworks of Evangelicalism, charismatic worship and so on.
As this process continued I proceeded to become more and more negative, more and more cynical, more and more skeptical of every possible aspect of my faith. Eventually, I found myself left with nothing. Pyrotheology had burnt my faith to ashes.
Yet here I find myself, once again prepared to affirm faith in God – even though I am not yet totally sure who or what God is, I believe that God is real, present and good. I am looking forward to discovering what else I can piece together over the coming years. Like a Phoenix, my faith is rising again to life from the flames.
There are two observations I can make about this: the first is that the Phoenix is a legend – an impossibility. An animal cannot be born of fire. We know that. Yet this is where I have found faith – out of having absolutely nothing left. I have explored the darkness and found that even in the depths of depression and nothingness, there is something, somehow holding me back from taking a final and permanent ‘leap of unfaith’.
The second observation is that my newly forming faith won’t last forever – it will last for a time, and then it will be replaced by something else. Perhaps the process will not be as painful, nor the changes so tangible, but there will be a renewal nonetheless into something different again. It is good to be at peace with this.
Ultimately, I am glad of the experience. Having nothing but ashes from which to build has meant that I have had to go beyond my experiences, beyond my world and explore the silence, the stories of others, and craft out new ideas and new ways of seeing things. The process has been incredibly rewarding. And finally, I find my cynicism beginning to subside. I can begin to believe again in a world which is worth inhabiting well.