I've been a little awed by the email responses to the recent discussions about faith, doubt and atheism. They have swamped the in-tray. One recurrent theme through the emails is actually very encouraging to someone like me: it is that doubt and darkness are not the antithesis of light and faith. Here's a striking passage by a Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, from "In My Own Words" that resonated:
It has not always been easyI went through a terrible period as a young sisterto the point that I thought I would have to leave religious life because I doubted the divinity of Jesus. Only when I realized that I did believe deeply and profoundly in God could I come to peace with the fact that faith in God would have to be enough. It was a dark, empty time. It threw me back on the barest of beliefs but the deepest of beliefs. I hung on in hope like a spider on a thread. But the thread was enough for me. As a result, my faith actually deepened over the years. The humanity of Jesus gave promise to my own. Jesus ceased to be distant and ethereal and “perfect.” Jesus let no system, no matter how revered, keep him from a relationship with God. And that union with God, I came to understand, was divine. Then I also understood that questions are of the essence in a mature faith.
I don’t fear the questions any more. I know that they are all part of the process of coming to union with God and refusing to make an idol of anything less. The point is that during that difficult time I didn’t try to force anything. I simply lived in the desert believing that whatever life I found there was life enough for me. I believed that God was in the darkness. It is all part of the purification process and should be revered. It takes away from us our paltry little definitions of God and brings us face-to-face with the Transcendent. It is not to be feared. It is simply to be experienced. Then, God begins to live in us without benefit of recipes and rituals, laws, and “answers”of which there are, in the final analysis, none at all.
Another word for this, perhaps, is hope.
(Photo: Johannes Simon/Getty.)