Since then, my life in and out of church has been disorderly, intuitive, haphazard. Since quitting drinking, I have engaged in any number of spiritual disciplines. I have investigated going to seminary, I have declared myself a Buddhist, I have declared myself a Taoist, I have gone to Quaker services and admired the grace and simplicity of their plain speech, I have pursued some of the rigors of yoga, and I have visited a half dozen Episcopal parishes. I have been full of doubt about God and Christianity, I have been embarrassed, occasionally, by Christianity. And I have been happy, moved, even transported.
This brief catalog of spiritual successes and failures feels very American to me, maybe even very contemporary. My understanding of American life is that it takes place in a frankly religious country, but that our nation treats religious feeling the same way it treats fresh produce: "I'll take one of those, and one of those, and a half dozen of those." Maybe I have been guilty of this myself, the rootless supermarket approach to spiritual research that is more about searching than finding. In the consumer-oriented spiritual or religious world, revelations are not hard to come by, but do they last? You can always be reborn, that is, but accepting the profound and troubling consequences of your birth in the first place is much harder to do.
These days, I am trying to sit still in one spot, one parish, one faith. From this vantage point, I have a bird's-eye view of all that is troubling about contemporary faith. My church, the Episcopal Church, seems to be falling into division in newer and more violent ways every day—over such questions as the ordination of gay persons and gay marriage. I know what I think about these questions (I believe the church belongs to everyone), but that's about the only place in my spiritual life I don't have doubt.
If this is, finally, the kind of godparent I can be most truthfully, the one who is uncertain, the one who is full of doubt, can I still serve with confidence and with my whole heart? To this question I can respond with a resounding yes. I would like to offer Clem, for example, the kind of godfather who is perfectly willing to be run through with the floppy sword, without complaint, or to teach him the lyrics to "Highway to Hell," by AC/DC, and who believes that embodying a fragile, quixotic approach to spiritual life is pursuing the god part of godparenting at the same time that it's pursuing the parenting part. Not knowing is the beginning of learning, as they say, and being teachable is the beginning of wisdom. Uncertainty, and the patience that comes with uncertainty—the patience required to investigate and await results where spiritual life is concerned, perhaps even the patience, on occasion, to learn from my godchildren as much as they are meant to learn from me—these ambitions make, I suppose, for a rather flawed and very human godparent, but also one who is willing to live life as it is instead of lobbying on behalf of dogmas and a Manichaean fight between good and evil. This is exactly what I hope to pass along to my spiritual charges whenever required: contentment, uncertainty, and an open-mindedness about the spiritual life.