What do you do when you no longer know how to pray?
What do you do when you find yourself searching for meaning beyond the feeble machinations of this life, yet keep finding yourself drawn down into life’s materialism. What about transcendence? What about heaven? Where is the divine – where is God – in the midst of this godforsaken world?
Faith and doubt, two sides of the same coin. Whether it’s ambivalence, or not, I’m not sure. But there are these ebbs and flows. Sometimes it feels like everything fits together. Other days it does not. I hear people regularly talking in triumphalistic tones about the way in which God has directed them to do such-and-such. But when was the last time hearing God’s voice was more than retracing the stale breadcrumbs I’d followed to get here?
There are those who are convinced that God speaks directly to them. I am not this person. With a few exceptions, I have never felt as though I’ve heard the voice of God. Rather than divine presence, I constantly struggle with the divine absence.
This question has come up more and more recently in the midst of conversation with those who have been seeking new ways to live out their fidelity to Christ – even in the midst of doubt. And I have been part of those conversations – sharing my own experiences (or lack thereof). I’ve quoted Paul Tillich who once suggested that “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith,” and felt deep resonance with Peter Rollins’ pyro-theological project. And yet, at the end of the day, I grasp for a deeper certainty.
I wonder in my heart (and aloud) where is this God that many of my evangelical friends so clearly can see? I wonder where this God is that so clearly directs their path. Or is it a verbal tic? Is it just something to say? Rather than “I fell into this job,” or “I was fortunate to meet so-and-so,” it becomes “God gave me this job,” and “Jesus introduced me to so-and-so.” Is it more than words? Is it more than dialect?
There is a part of me that longs for that certainty. Part of me that longs for the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine. Yet, like Simon I know the limitations of my own faith. I know that I am not faithful. That I don’t necessarily understand the voice of the shepherd when he speaks to me. This may be why the posthumously published writings of Mother Teresa resonate so deeply:
There is so much deep contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God – so deep that it is painful – a suffering continual – and yet not wanted by God – repulsed – empty – no faith – no love – no zeal. Souls hold no attraction – Heaven means nothing – to me it looks like an empty place – the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His – so He has every right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God…
Such deep contradiction. Such deep ambivalence. Such deep exhaustion. How like Simon. How like Thomas. And so, how, in the midst of doubt am I to embrace this faith that calls to me, even in spite of it all?