A former atheist, Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble fears complacency: "Will I stop wrestling and start nesting?"
I used to be a little girl who loved Anne of Green Gables, violin concertos, and writing stories about fairies. Then I became an atheist punk rocker and later a vegan animal-rights activist. After college I was an inner-city school teacher, then a humble farm worker. Then, miraculously, a believer in God, a Catholic, a believer in Jesus, and after that — most shockingly to me, and everyone I knew — a nun.
Now, when I walk down the street as a religious sister, some people see the institutional Church, others see someone on the fringe of society, others see an eccentric, and others see love. I am all of these things in some way. Somehow the mix of my past and present didn’t come together in the muddy brown of mixing colors. The colors blend and touch and resist one another all at the same time. But it is all beautiful.
Sometimes I wonder if I belong where I am, in a habit, in the “in-crowd” of the Church.
Will I become a misguided Pharisee?
In what ways am I already a Pharisee?
Will I stop wrestling and start nesting, just looking for comfort, acknowledgment, routine, ease, and pleasure?
Will I conform myself to the behavior of those around me or to the behavior of Christ?
Will I, after all that I have given up to live this life, just be a mediocre religious in the end?
I call myself a “former” atheist but that really is not the best label. I still am (and hope to always be) connected with all of the things I ever have been, in some way. Many people expect me to speak about my past as if I am terribly contrite and embarrassed. But I am only ashamed of the ways I did not love God and others. I am not ashamed of the seeking, the wrestling, and the questioning. I am not ashamed of being eccentric and bold, an odd rebel. I have not discarded my past, nose wrinkled, as if it were smelly garbage.
I think it is important for us to see our sin as God sees it. He knows precisely which things that may have led us to sin that will also, with the proper training, lead us to be saints. St. Paul was an overly zealous Pharisee, a rule-idolater and a violent persecutor. But much of what made him sin in the name of God was also what lent itself to his future holiness. Each of us has a unique gift to give others and the Church, and God often draws on the most unexpected aspects of our personalities and talents to do so.
I found myself praying the oddest prayer the other day.
“Dear Lord, I used to wish you would cure my natural skepticism but now I never want you to take it away. I don’t want an easy, naive faith. Make my faith daring, bold, and unashamed but never take away my understanding for those who doubt. I always want to be united with those on the fringes of the Church, those who find no understanding, those cast out of ‘insider’ circles, the doubters, the seekers, the eccentrics, and the misfits. From a Church of ‘in-crowds’ and comfort, deliver me Lord.”
That is my prayer.
What is your prayer for yourself?