Posted by: L. E. Barnes | February 14, 2010

Here I raise mine Ebenezer

Lent is approaching. It is meant to be a time of spiritual reflection and penance, a time to take stock of our walk with God and exercise some form of self-denial. Our parish sent out The Little Black Book, a short daily devotional for the Lenten season (just as during Advent we were issued The Little Blue Book). As an adult convert to the Catholic faith, I feel I need to stop and reflect on my own spiritual journey, so I’ll share here a little more of my spiritual background. (What follows, by the way, served as the text for a short speech I gave for the Greenville Toastmasters Club.)

When people ask me where I’m from, I’m not sure what to tell them. I was born in Georgia, spent most of my childhood in Virginia Beach, VA, had a three-year stint up north in Indiana, passed a year in Tarboro, NC, moved back to Georgia for a few years, attended college in rural NC, went to divinity school back in Virginia Beach, came to Greenville to get a graduate degree in English at ECU, taught English in Costa Rica for over a year, and then came back to Greenville. So you can see that I’ve been something a wanderer. But my wanderings have been more than just geographic; they’ve also been spiritual.

The Bible recounts the story of a people who had a tendency to wander. The ancient Hebrews were a people whose history involved periods of being uprooted. Their very name means “sojourners,” and in a creed found in the book of Deuteronomy, they were called upon to recite, “My father was a wandering Aramean.” But we also read how they repeatedly wandered spiritually. They followed a pattern of leaving the way God had told them to follow, suffering terrible consequences, and repenting and being restored by God.

I Samuel 7 tells of one of these episodes. The story takes place as the period of the judges, a time when Israel had no central government and was plagued by instability, was drawing to an end. The Israelites were being oppressed by their old enemies the Philistines. Samuel, the last of the judges, called upon the people to repent of their idolatry, and they did. God thus granted them victory against the Philistines. To commemorate the event, Samuel set up a monument. I Samuel 7:12 tells us, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.’” Ebenezer means “stone of help”; this stone served as a reminder of God’s merciful deliverance of His wayward people.

Thousands of years later, a man named Robert Robinson penned a hymn that alluded to this story from Israel’s history. That hymn was “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.“ Praising God for delivering him from his life of sin, Robinson wrote:

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;

Hither by thy help I’m come.

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,

Safely to arrive at home:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wand’ring from the fold of God;

He, to save my soul from danger,

Interposed His precious blood.

So I have something in common with the ancient Israelites and Robert Robinson: I too have wandered “from the fold of God” and ended up regretting it. And as did Samuel and Robinson, I too must “raise mine Ebenezer,” giving God the credit for setting my way aright.

I come from a conservative evangelical household. We attended charismatic churches, where speaking in tongues and emotionally charged services were commonplace. I was very passionate about my faith and even attended divinity school to train for the ministry. However, for various reasons, such as discontent with extremes in the charismatic movement and emotional problems I was experiencing, I ended up not only leaving divinity school but losing faith in God altogether.

Just as the Israelites spent time wandering in the wastelands of Sinai, I spent time wandering in the wastelands of agnosticism. Ironically, I still found myself wanting to curse God for everything that was wrong in the world. And though I believed in morality and human worth, I couldn’t have provided any sound reasons for either of them. Finally, I realized how dishonest I was being with myself. I had initially thought that leaving Christianity would be a liberating experience, but it turned out to be an exercise in futility. Life had no meaning, and literally nothing was sacred. I had to admit to myself that being an agnostic, well, stank!

So I approached Christianity again. Knowing from my prior experiences that the brand of Christianity I had grown up in simply wasn’t for me, I searched elsewhere. My search finally led me into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church. I was received into its fellowship this past Easter.

Have I completed my journey? Not hardly! There’s a story told about Robert Robinson that I’ll share here. It’s said that Robinson, during a ride on a stagecoach, was talking with a fellow passenger who happened to be reading a hymnbook that contained “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” She expressed her admiration for that particular hymn, unaware that she was talking to its author! After failing to get her to change the subject, Robinson confessed, “Madam, I am the unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds to enjoy the feelings I had then.” So I close tonight with words from Robinson’s hymn, words that this anecdote helps reinforce. It’s a prayer for those who–like the Israelites, Robert Robinson, and myself–have wandered astray spiritually:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart; Lord, take and seal it;

Seal it for Thy courts above.

Amen! I indeed thank the Lord for getting me through my various mistakes and hardships. May we all be blessed with a spiritually enriching Lent in preparation for the joys of the Easter season.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Thank you for your story. I love hearing stories of conversion. It reminds me to do all I can to stay on the straight and narrow.

    The stone of help is Jesus, the cornerstone, the one the builders rejected. If we build our house on rock with Jesus as the cornerstone, Satan cannot sift us. Just cling to the stone.

    • Yes, sometimes it gets tough, but I cling to the Rock! As did the father of the demon-possessed boy in the gospel of Mark, I too must sometimes pray, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”

  2. Evan, I loved your testimony. I too, have identified with “Come Thou Fount” on many levels. We sing it occasionally at our church but never the verse about raising our Ebenezer, which is my favorite. The last time we sang it, the kids were home from Nashville and all of them remarked how the part of it, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love” made them so sad that they cried. We realized how easy it is to wander (and wonder). It is part of our nature and still, God loves us. I love you Evan. Keep searching and you will be found. Keep wondering (wandering) and you will be filled with understanding. Look forward to reading more.

    • Yes, it’s been a long road for me, with all kinds of crazy turns along the way. But God has gotten me through it all. It is a beautiful hymn, and it’s too bad many churches nowadays have abandoned it and other classic hymns. I love you and your family too! I hope to hear from you all again soon.

  3. […] I’ve previously shared on this blog about how I abandoned faith in God for a time, considering myself agnostic. Like Lewis, I don’t feel there’s any danger of my reverting to that. Instead, I have doubted God’s goodness. It’s as if I’ve been carrying on a “love-hate” relationship with God. Have any of you ever felt that way? […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: