Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. -Paul Tillich
A friend writes to suggest that perhaps I should consider faith. “What I think you need,” she writes, “is not happiness, or money, or perfect health, but a larger purpose.” My friends is an intellectual, and when my son Julian was born, she gave him a gold nugget and a copy of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Though I knew she had converted to Catholicism, I was a bit surprised to read her suggestion that I give Joyce Meyer a try. And though I’ll probably give Mrs. Meyer a pass, I have been left thinking about the nature of faith and its role in my life.
I’ve long been drawn to the spectacle of religion but only as an observer. The photographs that Shelby Adams took of serpent handlers in Kentucky, the novels of Harry Crews, religious festivals, shops full of church goods. But it’s not just the freakish aspects that speak to me, but the contemplative ones too. I can certainly find a moment to stop and meditate in a beautiful sanctuary.
I suppose I do believe in prayer, not as an intercession, but as simply sending love out into the universe. That some almighty being would bother with the minutiae of our individual lives strikes me as a little far-fetched, but if you believe it and it gives you peace, that’s wonderful.
Hucksterism disguised as “Christianity” really gets up my nose, though. Recently Oinkadoodlemoo, a local barbecue place, posted on their Facebook page that “God is our CEO.” When I responded that this was offensive enough to prevent me from ever setting foot in their restaurant again, the actual CEO (not God) sent me an email to ask if he might talk to me about their philosophy and I said sure, and provided my telephone number, but I haven’t heard back from him.
If you are a believer, how can you describe The Almighty Being as something so mundane as the head of a barbecue joint? And if you don’t believe, it just feels like another fundamentalist spooning up a side of dogma with that pulled pork.
My immediate family was not of a congregation, though both of my grandmothers were regular church-goers. Sundays were about brunch, or school projects or dog shows. We did do a stint in the Anglican Church in Prince Edward Island but it didn’t stick. When my husband and I married it was in the Lutheran Church, and we were confirmed into the ELCA in preparation for the vows. They’re a pretty progressive church and we stayed with the congregation until our son was about three years old and too fractious to make it through the service, no matter how beautifully it was sung. Friends and family run the gamut from fiercely atheist to deeply devout and I feel not one bit inclined to inspire any of them to try something different.
But do I Believe?
I simply don’t know. I’m open to what ever happens, including nothing.
After the death of my stepfather in 1998 I experienced a whole series of incidences that might be considered paranormal. I will write about them sometime. And again, after my father’s death in 2005, a couple of things that were just a little strange. In my twenties I struggled with temporal lobe epilepsy and one of the elements of that condition is prescience. It is, after all, elementary physics that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. So what happens to the energy that makes us human when our bodies give up the ghost? It must go somewhere.
But are belief and faith the same thing? Not for me, I think. My father’s mother died in March, at the age of 96. Her husband, her eldest child, her parents, and many siblings had gone before her. In the last few years, she said repeatedly that she could not understand “why the Lord would not let (her) come home.” She wanted to die, not because she was in pain particularly, but because she wanted to be reunited with those she loved, she wanted her reward for nearly a century of fervent devotion. She wanted to rest in the hands of the Lord. I so hope that in the hour of her death that she arrived at the heavenly kingdom for which she had prepared her whole life. She believed and the faith that sustained her was borne of those beliefs.
I don’t believe the way she believed, but this does not mean that I am without faith. Years ago I lost a dog in downtown Dayton. She was gone for nine days. For the first four days, I searched frantically, nearly in a state of panic. On the fifth day, exhausted, I called a pet psychic, and she told me that the dog was okay, that she was in an enclosure and that I would have her back the following Monday. It was Tuesday, as it turns out, but that’s just a minor detail. Now, I don’t know what it was about talking to this woman that made such a sea-change for me but I went from a place of fear to a place of faith. I believed that I would the find the dog, I believed that it would all be okay. I believed that as long as I kept sending positive energy into the world that we would be reunited. And we were.
Faith allows me to talk to strangers in the street. It allows me to sleep while my teenaged son is still out with friends. It is the thing that keeps me from collapsing in fear at the ferocious and terrible pain that is a full-blown migraine headache. I have faith that things will not always be so bleak. I believe that faith sustains me and allows me to me let the world in instead of shutting the world out. It’s what keeps me typing out one word after another in orderly steps– blind faith that someone out there will want to read them.
Faith, finally, for me is an absence of fear. This does not mean that I have a life free of anxiety or sorrow. But it does mean that when I find myself obsessed with worry that I can make a concerted effort to let go of that and simply be. It’s a little like flying.