Day … much later

This Christian has stopped reflecting on her doubt. That’s it, for now. It appears, in any case, that not one soul has ever read any of this, nor ever will, as a brief Google search throws up nothing remotely like this little one-person bog … so who will ever read it? If someone does, someday, then consider, dear reader, that what started out a crippling doubt quickly dissipated, though this should not be taken as typical of my life story. Doubt of a kind that really crushed me has been frequent and prolonged in my life.  Like the alcoholic, I can not say that it is over, for good. Experience, for the alcoholic, teaches him or her that she is never safe; that she cannot say she has it beat; and this realisation keeps the alcoholic humble and reliant on what they call a “Power” higher than themselves. So too with me. I rely on Him for my daily dose of faith and I feel I may be less shaken the next time it seems to ebb. I have less need to capture it, pin it down. I can wait.  know that God is there. I know that he loves me. I know that Jesus is central, somehow…. I acknowledge the very real faiths of non-Christians but  persist in a belief that Jesus Christ is the fullness of God, in bodily form, and that my path, at any rate,leads through Him.

And every minute spent blogging about Him is a minute not spent praying to  Him! So let me end for now, on his note. Hoping, dear reader, that YOU exist! At the moment that, too is a matter of faith!

Day … what? 16? 17

“I have had to accept the fact that my life is almost totally paradoxical. I have also had to learn gradually to get along without apologizing for the fact, even to myself. . . . It is in the paradox itself, the paradox which was and still is a source of insecurity, that I have come to find the greatest security.”

This quote by Thomas Merton sums up what I am coming to discover. I think I am really coming to terms with the fact that doubt need not cut one in two, need not vanquish, is a given, in certain people, and that it an be accepted as a signpost, almost an indication, that faith is at work. What a paradox indeed – certainty in the midst of doubt.

What are we if not confused, or grasping at uncertain certainties to bolster ourselves up, and of what value is certainty anyway, without Love? Reading Richard Rohr’s review on the live’s of mystics and non-dual thinkers has helped me, too. I see that there is a vastness out there, in God, in Christ, that I have not begun to plummet, a vastness where the neat edges blur and whose very vastness and depth fills me with a sense of freedom and confidence. I need not be afraid. In the end Christ is true – and the narrowness and dualism which bother me so much seem, at some point, to end. They are not lies. They are true. Yet there is more, ever more to Christ.

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death on the cross, to present you holy in his sight – without  blemish and free from accusation …”. This is good news for everyone. Of course it continues, “… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out for you in the gospel of Christ”. (That is from Colossians 2, I think). Continuing in your faith, yes, despite yourself.

Day 7

Better, these last two days.

St Therese of Liseux speaks of CONFIDENCE in God. Confidence flows from trust. It has been mightily encouraging to me to examine doubt as a concept, as an essential component, some writers say, of the Christian faith. It is marvelous to think that. For what, after all, is faith, if it is never tested? What is faith if it does not involve some arduous wrestling? If belief was something one slid effortlessly into, well then, there would be no narrow gate – there would be only the broad, easy road.

That may be a bit of convoluted reasoning (using imagery from Jesus’s words to bolster belief in Christianity itself – after all Jesus’ words are authoritative only IF Christianity is true. Thus the conclusion is being used to establish a premise, or something like that). Still.

Confidence comes naturally to me in the natural world. I am by nature a confident person – only in matters spiritual do I flounder and sink, and flounder some more.  Yet I know that all of the words of the Bible are nothing if they do not inspire confidence in God.

I am experiencing, right along with the dreadful uncertainty, a strange confidence. One reason is a picture that came to me. My misery is caused by the sensation, sometimes, that I am cut off from the joys and truths the Bible offers. I read, I comprehend the meaning, but the words do not ignite me. This morning, I saw it as a picture. It is as if above me there is a shifting sheet of grey cardboard, studded with small holes perhaps two centimentres in diameter. Above that piece of cardboard, is another one, the one on God’s side. It too has small holes in it. The two sheets of cardboard slide over one another, in constant motion. I sit under them both, praying, reading my Bible. Most of the time, no light of Heaven reaches me. But every now and then, a hole in one sheet of cardboard aligns with a hole in the other  – and a glimpse of heaven is felt. Clarity and a tiny taste of certainly and joy enter me. Then perhaps the two cardboards move again, and certainty is gone. But I had the experience, I know it is there. And that makes all the difference. Plus, I realised today, that there is really nothing I can do to make that revelation come. It is not up to me. I am already doing all I can – placing myself in the position where hearing, sensing, knowing, might be possible – just by praying, reading my Bible, and endeavouring to practise a life of love. So what more can I do? It really is God’s decision whether or not to reveal Himself further to me.

I even had the thought today – so what if I never feel joy again? Just knowing that the truth is out there – that it is not up to me to grasp it, but for it to be revealed to me – relieves me!

Thomas Merton wrote of saints who lived most of their lives in a sort of joyless way – never really experiencing the fire of God. Yet they were surely loved, surely entered the gates of heaven, for they lived lives that bore fruit, and they remained faithful to Jesus… Knowing that I cannot produce or demand joy, (and joy, to me, is another word for certainty) – that gives me a strange hope and confidence. It is not up to me. It is up to God!

Day 5

There was no day 4 – I can’t be doing with writing all the time.

Now, the great thing about reflecting on one’s doubts is that for once, one is not reflecting on one’s faith. Reflecting on one’s faith is a dangerous occupation for one such as me. I don’t know that much about formal psychology, but I do know that we are said to possess something called the Super Ego – the part that looks upon ourselves from a distance and critically assesses, remarks, judges, compares. I seem to have it in abundance.

There is a part of me that reflects analytically not only on my own true nature and motivations, but on my worldview. It can be helpful to reflect critically at one’s nature and motivations, as it prevents the holding of too high a view of oneself. One knows one’s true motives. One recognises the falsity and self-deception that come right along with one into every attempt to live a holy life. But to look critically at one’s worldview – well, its destructive in the long run. Faith is to be lived . I think of St Therese of Liseux, who died hardly educated at 24 and knew little of theology, but lived a beautiful faith with passion and conviction. As do all great Christians.

I feel that a life of passion for the Lord is not far from me – if only I could accept the words of the Bible as is, and not compare them incessantly to other worldviews … or not even worldviews, just … reality out there. The reality is that there are millions of people who profess no faith in Jesus but who live lives filled with greater love, peace and joy than many Christians. The reality is that people are honestly wrestling with spiritual questions, not living lives of debauchery and dissolution…. and  – the usual plaintive cry; “How can God condemn them just because they don’t confess the name of Christ?”

The key for me is to ask God to help me to see that Christ IS over all, in all, for all. I balk at saying he is a part of every religion – that would be bending Christianity to suit me. But he must, in some way as yet unknown in my depths, be the Saviour of all.

A man I once met said that Christ has already saved the whole world. We are “saved”, all of us. I wonder about this. Is it just a matter of recognising the Saviour then? Unfortunately the man did not live in what seemed to me at the time a Christian way. He did not count himself among the believers in the sense that I then understood the term. But I wonder if he was right.

Lord, only you know the state of my soul. This dissecting of matters theological brings me no peace. Yet you gave me a brain with a particularly philosophical bent, and I do not have the personality of St Therese. Could I however learn from her? Her childlike purity seems a far, far remove from this cluttered life and mind of mine. Yet still. All things are possible.

Day 3

I go through periods of fear and uncertainty. Fear seems to grip my heart, when this gaping hole of uncertainty in my beliefs presses upon me. It’s a physical sensation of dread.

How is it that other people can read the Bible and speak of being comforted, uplifted? Yes, there are those passages, but read the New Testament closely and all the comfort and upliftment, all the joy and the encouragement, are reserved for those who accept the whole shebang. The whole of Romans 9 – 11 is about the IN crowd and the OUT crowd. Why does the existence of a predestined OUT crows not bother so many Christians??? Paul says plainly (and then again, seems to contradict himself at the end of the monologue, somewhere in Rom 11) that some are predestined for wrath and destruction… for some appalling reason as ” to show God’s mercy” to those who don’t get the wrath and destruction. My God.

Yet this is not a blog to further entrench or justify my apprehensions. What would be the point of that? The whole struggle is to hold onto faith, to find God in the midst of suffering, to straddle the great paradoxes of faith. Somewhere I read that the spiritually mature person is the one who can absorb Paradox – whose faith is rooted in the paradoxes. That seems to be the only way for me. I am not, therefore bothered a whole lot by apparent contradictions in the Bible; I take them always as two aspects of the same truth, which must be grasped at a level deeper than that of mere logic and reasoning.

(Yet sometimes this seems like a cop out).

Walking along through town today in a state of what really was unceasing prayer,  I felt comfort in the thought of Love. The many times we are exhorted to love, told that the most important thing is faith expressing itself through Love, that God IS Love, that the entire law and the prophets can be summed up in the one commandment, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

I cannot live with a wishy-washy faith. I can almost accept that I may never find a a satisfactory solution to the problems of orthodox Christian theology (problems to me). But in proportion, or hopefully far exceeding these doubts, I could come to a place of dwelling in God, of knowing Jesus without a shadow of a doubt, of being consumed by a need to express Him. These moments come upon me – especially the needs to express Him. In the midst of all this sturm und drang I do find this love surging through me occasionally, and I have to say something encouraging and cheerful to someone, or give someone a hug.

Oh, Lord, my lover, my friend, my protector, please carry me through this to the other side.

And sin is always with me. I found anger surging through me too, today, and indignant, troubled thoughts, about what I perceived as an injustice by my neighbour – a carelessness, an assumption. I smssed her calmly, and without, I hope, rancour, but in the my sms, there was a lie. I told her I was out and couldn’t take care of a certain matter, when I was not. Felt, as might be expected, BAD.

Day 2

Day 2 brought some relief. That is probably because in fact its not Day 2 at all but about Day 200, and I have been through it all before. The last time went on for about four months and I feel that I almost died of it; I swore that never again would I allow my mind to travel down those futile, draining paths. And it hasn’t. Till a week or two ago. Now I feel slightly better equipped to deal with this thing called doubt.

The great thing is to name it, look at it, and acknowledge it for what it is: Doubt. It can be bundled up in a word; it can be read about, in the experiences of others; and it is certainly something that the writers of the Old Testament and Jesus Himself were familiar with. Psalm 88 is the most dreadful yet comforting piece of writing for someone in the throes of spiritual anguish; that writer knew suffering of the mental and spiritual sort.

I read  a piece on Doubt just now, when searching for my own blog; the writer makes the comfortable assertion that doubt makes you question yourself; doubt yourself, and find fault with yourself. My experience seems to be different. Doubt is precisely so ghastly because it makes you question REALITY, your foundations, your faith – not yourself. My own petty failings, sins, whatever you want to call them, seem like nothing compared to the gaping hole that opens up within you when you doubt.

The great writers teach us that we must hate our sins – that they should fill us with horror – and in the context of a living faith, it makes sense. I long for faith to be restored. Thomas Merton says that the instant you become aware of your need for God, you already have Him – that the experience of desperation is already the moment of finding. Or something like that! And I have experienced this! This is the most amazing thing. In moments of deep despair – no never despair, there is always this tiny, tiny flame of hope – I have felt how Love suddenly surges through me – a love for others. I experience it as a desire to sms someone and encourage him or her with love and affection.

Oh, Lord, how I long for you, and how, too, I am drawn by comfort and ease, by stability and routine. “Give me your living presence or I die!” cries one side, and, “I need a nap, a book and blanket,” says the other.

I feel sometimes I would be a good counselor for the doubting, as I have experienced it all.

What helped me this day: TRUST. Dear friend, if you are doubting too, remember the value of trust. You don’t have to feel peace, joy and delight in your God, or, at least, you CANnot, when in this state. But you can trust that He is there, hidden, but there. You can trust that Reality is good, underneath it all, and that at some point God will reveal Himself again to you. For now you are in pain and anguish but it will end.

Wow! What am I saying? That reality is fundamentally good, that the universe is fundamentally friendly, that goodness will prevail – and therefore, God? Yes, I believe so. For some the problem of evil dashes all their hopes of reality being good. But today, when I saw the cat tearing apart a bird, it somehow confirmed to me the Christian story: that life on earth is fundamentally flawed. That pain and suffering are woven into our miserable existence here on earth. But NOT that ultimate reality is so. We are born onto this earth and we experience suffering; we should not be dismayed at it. The suffering of that bird, its slow, violent death; how could any Eastern philosophy explain that? The bird did not choose to suffer and has no capacity of moral choice to overcome suffering; it merely suffers because that is life on earth. Likewise, us. All of creation groans. And what shall overcome this body of death, but a divine Saviour?

It made sense to me for a moment. I do understand that for some, the assumption that underneath it all is goodness, is God, is just too much to accept.

For me my doubts have been of a different sort – not so much doubting God, but the entire Christian worldview. The only way forward for me seems to be a broader understanding of who Jesus is. Yet never, oh Lord, an impersonal Jesus!

Day 1

First of all, doubt is hell. Spiritual doubt robs you of your foundation. Inside you sense emptiness, frequently followed by dread; a form of panic, which alternates with long periods of absolute exhaustion. But I have called this A Christian Reflects on her Doubt because in that title there is some hope. I have not moved to dwelling in or identifying with doubt. I so desperately want to remain a Christian. But I cannot continue in the very narrow worldview I have struggled to believe for all these years. I crave and must have – yes, MUST HAVE – something deeper, broader, more freeing.  I long for a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ. I want Him to be All to me – my foundation, my reason for being, the one who gets me up in the morning, the one without whom I can do nothing. But before I continue, let me just see if this actually comes out looking like a blog …

So, I don’t really know why this is coming out as a long single column, which might be annoying for some. As a woman over fifty, I am not steeped in the technological tradition.

I’ve been through all this doubt before. It leaves me paralysed, unable to access the wellspring of life. Because the issue is not with understanding the Christian faith, it is not with God Himself, it is that my own FAITH, that silver thread that connects us with the entire wealth of spiritual reality, seems to be gone. The issue is FAITH. I have none. Or very little. Perhaps, perhaps, some … about the size of a mustard seed. I would call it a faint hope, more than faith.

I read a quote once that helped me in my last round of paralysing loss of faith; “Faith is hope, holding it hand out in the dark.” Might not mean much to some but it meant a lot to me at the time. ie  Hope is foundational to faith, it just goes one step further … sometimes very tentatively.

Later

So what happened to the rest of my thoughts? I rambled on for at least another two paragraphs of fine writing! Wherein I elucidated on the nature of my doubt – the dualism inherent in the Bible, Jesus’ own apparent confirmation of this dualistic understanding of reality, a dualism that at times seems to literally tear me apart. It seems to have gone.

I have continued in the fundamentalist tradition – my church, my friends – while knowing for a long time that my own views were changing. I am drawn to a mystical understanding of Christianity, of Oneness, wholeness, unity. Am afraid of losing Jesus, or at least, of losing my faith in Him … I cannot live without Him! Yet one or two conversations with some sceptics who place their faith in science alone has sent my faith crashing to the ground, once again. I ask myself, is all this Christianity inherent in the writings of the mystics just their interpretation of human consciousness, couched in the language of their times and cultures? Is it all just human consciousness? Is even this more mystical understanding of Christ and His church going to be blown away, too?

Surely not. No, surely not.