27 April 2009

We Cannot Believe By Ourselves

It has been an interesting two weeks following Easter.

Our Pastor called for volunteers to create some kind of resurrection station during each Sunday after Easter. Sort of like the stations of the Cross only this time to reflect different resurrection stories. An earlier post of mine discusses the story of Doubting Thomas. When I wrote that I was thinking about me and doubt, obviously. And when I heard the call to create a station of the resurrection I volunteered to do one on John 20:24-25: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.

I volunteered because I thought it would be fun to do. It was kind of a cool PowerPoint deal with lots of fades, quotes from everyone from Luther to Bono, odd paintings by Jim Dine (see photo) and others. And it plays to the soundtrack of Songs and Poems for Solo Cello: Song III, by Phillip Glass as performed by Wendy Sutter. I must have agonized over that damn thing for two weeks. iTunes tells me I listened to Song III 56 times in the course of putting it together.

The relevant sections of John 20 are interspersed with pithy quotes that seemed relevant in terms of the role doubt plays in faith. For example, “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky. Or how about “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” - Ralph Hodgson. Or last but not least: “I believe though I do not comprehend, and I hold by faith what I cannot grasp with the mind.” - St. Bernard and so on.

So yesterday, Sunday, I set up my Mac at HFASS and got it ready to play it during what we call “Open Space.” Other folks had some cool stuff. Someone set up a sheet where you could sign your name in place of “Mary!” as Jesus exclaimed it when he left the tomb. (John 20:11-21:25 ) That was amazing to visualize while I stood there. Another had a poem cut in sections hanging and on a clothesline. Nice that.

Picture my Mac on a green cloth covered table. A tall white candle on each side (in praise of St. Job of Apple I imagine). Music blasting out of Pastor Nadia’s speakers, it ran all during the open space period. The song is only 2:19 long which was a bit much when heard over and over and over. [A brief digression, interestingly, John 2:19 is “Jesus answered them, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”]

Anyway, after the service, Charlotte and I packed it up and went home. I was totally down from the moment I walked out of church. Which was weird. The funk lasted most of the night and into today. This foggy grey day of snow showers and absence. Because that’s what it feels like today. No Christ. No Spirit. No God. No Trinity. No presence. Only absence. It has been so long since I felt His presence or could see it. The fog and mists obscure the trees and make them just shadows. I’d be glad for such a shadow of Christ. At least I'd know He was there.

It dawned on me when I got home tonight that I’m down because despite the pretty presentation, the wise words, the pithy quotes, and the (all too) haunting music, despite all that, my doubts are still here, perhaps stronger than ever. I had hoped my project would prove to be an exorcism of sorts. But thinking about Thomas for two weeks has seemed to have the reverse effects. I’m reading “The Reason For God” right now and I want to debate Timothy Keller at every turn.

Instead of getting closer to God I feel further away. Intellectually, I know St. Bernard is right but my heart was empty after church and is still empty tonight. Luther said, “Faith is a divine work that God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself implants it We cannot believe by ourselves.

That last bit is my solace tonight. “We cannot believe by ourselves.”

Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20

Perhaps this is what Christ meant, at least in part - the community of followers sustains us.; i.e., church. God knows its hard to believe all alone, at least for me, and perhaps intended it as such.

I just wish I could understand why.



Spike said...

It sounds to me like you've spent time feeding your doubt, living with and listening to your doubt--and naturally, it's grown.

However, what you had before is not gone. You cannot see the trees for the fog, in fact, you cannot see their shadows--but they are there.

Keep walking, hands outstretched, though the way is dim right now.

Sarcastic Lutheran said...

faith needs doubt. embrace it.

Irritable said...

I can relate to your doubts. I've been there. Am there. I can totally relate to your pastor (whose blog I also follow) when she says she thought, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t believe a word of this stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale,” but then thought “except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.”

Only sometimes I've spent years between those realizations. I've outed myself as an atheist at least twice, but it never takes.

So I agree: doubt is a part of faith. Embrace it. And don't let others convince you this a phase you'll grow out of or something you'll get over. It might be -- who am I to say? -- but that has not been my experience.