The courage of faith
Recently, a parishioner came to talk with me about a particularly painful event in her life, an event that involved unimaginable cruelty and ugliness. When she finished describing this deeply upsetting and life-altering event, an event that decimated many people, she said simply, “So, I want you to tell me what to do, because this situation feels unbearable.”This happens a lot; it’s a reason many people turn to religion. In this case, the parishioner knew I would not be able to wave a wand or give her something to do that would make it all better. She is a person of deep and mature faith. When she said, “I want you to tell me what to do,” she was really just saying, “I am lost and in pain; I cannot see the way forward.”
Of course, faith is not about fixing the wreckage of our lives, but about having the courage to stick with God in the midst of the wreckage. Faith enters into the mess; it doesn’t eliminate the mess.
There will be times of unequivocal ugliness in our lives, and faith can’t fix them. Faith can only invite us to a renewed determination not to be cowed by the ugliness and evil we encounter in the world, but to fix our attention on God instead. Faith is about waiting patiently on the Lord, when you’d rather lash out at the world. It is precisely when we are stressed and angry that we benefit most from doing absolutely nothing except to close our eyes, breathe deeply, relax our tensed shoulders, and surrender to God. There is a time to act, but it is almost always better for this surrender to come first.
Sometimes events in my life resemble a monstrous drum beating; or a lone, foreboding bass; or a crying reed. All I feel is anger, anxiety, or upset. This is when I need the courage of faith, the lifetime determination to stick with God. It’s a commitment that requires a lot of patience on our part, it will seem foolish to many, and there will be times when we lash out. But our belief is that God emerges in the midst of the wreckage, from the emptiness, and out of the grave. With time and patience in such situations, I have sensed emerging strains of a violin, a comforting oboe joins in, a reassuring cello…and I have sensed that although the ugliness remains, it is transfigured; it is being enveloped by the symphony of the universe and incorporated into the inexorable harmony of God.
We won’t always hear it, but we can have the courage to believe it.