In this great religious meat market the clergy were the true fueling force. They cried to one and all to come and partake of the waters of life. Let each come and find faith in Jesus; which faith was of no consequence, just come.
Yet, as soon as people filed away from one congregation or the other, such brotherly invitations to Christ fell to contention and condemnation. Priest contended against priest, and convert against convert. In the blink of an eye the Christians didn't seem so christian anymore. Words became weapons, and scripture became deadly.
It was in the midst of this war of words and contest of opinions that he found himself, a young boy so unaware of the ways of the world, seeking to find faith. The tide of religious excitement took him along in its current, and young as he was he couldn't help but feel the same deep and pressing desire to unite himself to God and be one of His people.
But which congregation was God's, he didn't know. And all the people in town disagreed. Even his family was divided on the issue, maintaining a peaceful truce between the converts and those who kept themselves apart from it all.
He went to the revival meetings as often as he could. He would sit and listen, eyes and ears ablaze as the latest sermon on the way and will of God was trumpeted forth with great charisma and enthusiasm. The words of the preacher would strike a fire of excitement in his heart, and he would think, "yes, this has to be the one." Though as soon as he left that congregation and joined another, that certainty was fading and being replaced by different orchestra of "be thou"s and "thou shalt"s and "thus saith the Lord"s. As that sermon rolled forth he would feel the excitement again, and feel the logic of it, and think "oh, yes! This one, this has to be it."
But, alas, the fervor never lasted. For as soon as another sect began debating the points of the first or the second, the logic, the reasoning, and the scripture would all be lost in a massive heap of rubble.
Often he spent his evenings walking the dusty roads pondering the words and ideas of the latest meeting. What they said made so much sense. But so had what the last preacher said. And his sermon contradicted the first. How could they all make so much sense, yet refute each other so completely?
Sometimes, the weight of it would get so heavy that it was all he could do to not cry out in frustration. In moments of fleeting sleep he would stare at the stars and wonder: "what am I to do? Who out of all these is right? If any of them are right, which is it? And how can I know?"
But the even the answer to this question eluded him, and he would eventually fall into an uneasy sleep in the early hours of the morning.
And so time went on. Preachers preached, converts testified, and the fire of faith seemed to have claimed almost everyone to a congregation. But no matter how many times the boy visited a congregation, he never found any more clarity than he had before. He was going in circles. And even though he felt more partial to some sects over the others, never could he bring himself to throw himself into the waters of baptism and relentless loyalty.
He listened. And he pondered. And he listened again. He read the Bible, trying to find the answers the preachers weren't giving him, but couldn't find any solidity. However, he did not relent in his search. He couldn't. There was too much at stake.
One evening, while searching the Bible for answers, he fell upon a verse. "If any of you lack wisdom," he read, "let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." His blood seemed to burn as he read those words, slamming his heart against his ribcage. Every fiber of his being shook. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.
He couldn't shake those words from his mind. Through the following days they echoed inside of him, bouncing off of every question he asked himself. If any of you lack wisdom. They seemed to whisper in his ear as he listened to the clergy declare their fiery sermons. Let him ask of God. They pulsed with every beat of his heart as he heard converts testify and contradict and argue with one another. And it shall be given him.
He needed to know. He had to know. And from the word of God itself told him to ask God. Don't ask the preacher. Don't ask the converts. Don't ask religious scholars, or miracle workers, or even the Bible itself. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.
The words burned within his chest day in and day out, urging him on. They roused excitement within him, not like the preachers with their emotional intonations, but a deeper excitement, as if his very bones were shaking.
But part of him also hid itself from those words. He couldn't ask. What if God didn't answer? What then? He'd be right back where he started. And even worse, what if he did? What if God gave him an answer, and it wasn't what he expected, what if it was the opposite of what he wanted? Could he handle receiving such an answer? Would he be strong enough? Or would it simply crush him?
These two halves battled it out within him, and all the while he continued to listen, to read, and to ponder, hoping something would sway the fight one way or the other.
He was in bed one night, feeling the same familiar tension in his stomach as the two sides debated in his head. He tried to shut up the noise and fall asleep, but the battle was beyond him now.
Finally, he let go, and just listened to the sound of the silence. The tension fell somewhat, though the root was still there in his stomach. He turned and looked out the window in resignation. He couldn't handle the conflict anymore. The indecision was just too much. He looked past the road and toward the woods on the other side of their property. That's where he had decided to go to ask, if he did go. The space between the trees was dark as pitch, despite the bright moonlight pouring across the nearby fields. The contrast was so sharp. All one would have to do to be able to move out of the darkness was take a step. Just one step. And suddenly, everything would be bathed in light.
That same choice was his.
He didn't sleep much. The battle tried to reignite itself throughout the night, but he knew what he had to do. When the first shreds of twilight broke over the fields, he got up and got dressed. In the deep silence he slipped outside, stopping by the barrel on the side of the house to splash water across his face. Then he turned, faced the woods across the road, and walked.
When the light finally faded from his eyes, he blinked, trying to focus. He was on his back, and morning light was pouring through the trees from the east. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling every inch of his body relax. The tension was gone. The battle was gone. The words and arguments and the questions were gone. Well, maybe not all the questions. But they didn't eat at him the way they had before.
He listened, this time hearing the silence on a whole new level. It seemed to come from within him. It was the sound of perfect reconciliation. It was calm. Every inhibition had fled. Every doubt was gone. He knew. Wellness and euphoria filled his chest. And for the first time in a long time, he laughed, simply, because it felt good.