Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hints and Guesses

A Vignette I Read at Sojourners' Chapel Service Today

If you find God with ease, Thomas Merton once suggested, perhaps it is not God you have found. For my sake, I hope he’s right. It was my first semester of college – in my Theology of Culture class, to be exact – that the airtight theology and epistemological certainty of my fundamentalist upbringing began crumbling into a sea of existential doubt, one in which I still most often float. (It was also when I learned the words epistemological and existential.)

God has been much harder to find since those first days of “enlightenment.” Thanks to my liberal arts education, I now know the sociological, psychological, anthropological, and philosophical explanations of religion. Have we just created God in our own image as a projection of our best hopes and protection against our deepest fears? Is it just socially-constructed reality? A psychological crutch? The opiate of the masses? An escape from and denial of the hopelessness inherent in the reality that the physical world is all there is… that there is no pie in the sky or even meaning to the here and now? Of course, this is all not to mention the hurdles of higher biblical criticism, or postmodern critiques of meta-narrative and truth itself.

And ultimately, what can we really know about the immaterial and the invisible anyway? From a certain perspective, claiming to know the Creator of the Universe personally or being best friends with a flesh-and-blood person who lived 2,000 years ago passes as arrogant at the least and at worst sounds like grounds for admission into an institution, and this time, I am not referring to one of higher learning.

I have had a million minutes of wondering if I am living a grand illusion, months without darkening the door of a church, and once a year without taking the Body and Blood. More often than not, I find myself asking, where has God gone? Is God, as Nietzsche claimed, indeed dead?

But for some reason, even after over 10 years of such doubts and questions, I persist. Or maybe better put, God persists.

With the disciples, I am left asking, “Lord, to whom shall I go?” With Philip Yancey, I lean on the persuasive power of the person of Jesus and what I perceive as a lack of better alternatives. With Pascal, I see too little to be sure, yet too much to deny. And also with him, I exclaim that “it is incomprehensible that God should exist,” but with equal force, I also say that “it is incomprehensible that God should not exist.”

In the end, I think I’ve learned to live with this divine tension. Emily Dickinson wrote that “We both believe, and disbelieve, a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble.” In that case, my believing might be most nimble of all.

To this day… this very moment… that mountain of certainty from my youth remains on the sea floor. My faith is no longer that mountain; it is the mustard seed; it is the cloud that Elijah saw rising from the sea, no larger than a person’s hand.

During one of my darkest times, I wrote a prayer that – in a real sense – may always be my prayer:

God, here I am. Even as I pray I can feel the doubts creeping, but I also know that I have been given a small gift of faith, and I pray for more. I ask for faith and I ask for the chance to know you. Yes, it feels weird loving someone whom I’ll never meet; some spiritual being. It will take faith to participate in worship and to pray and to say “I love you” and mean it. My doubts won’t be far off. But conversion is happening. In a quiet, subtle way, I am ready for faith, ready for you, ready to try on that initially ill-fitted suit of belief. I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.

T. S. Eliot wrote,

There are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses;
And the rest is prayer, observance,
Discipline, thought, and action.


Blogger Dan Morehead said...

Well written, sir. Thanks for sharing this.

9:27 PM  

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