On the Contradictions of Faith


Yesterday, I finally heard Mass in the parish church of my neighborhood again.

I have an ambiguous relationship with the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as I may have briefly mentioned in a previous post. On the one hand, it incites my ardor for stylized forms of worship, with their arcane symbolisms and inflexible structures (a love rooted in an epiphany, born of Zen meditation practice, that it doesn’t matter if rituals have no meaning—as long as their performance induces the necessary religious state). On the other hand, it provokes my impatience with collective practices of faith, with the simplifications and generalizations that come with having to generate the universal from the particular.

In religion, as in other areas of my life, my bad habits persist.

I once told my spiritual adviser, Sister R., that I prayed best in solitude. I suspect this has less to do with my fondness for independence than my tendency towards over-analysis. Solitary prayer can be performed without structure; communal prayer never. It’s the presence of a framework that excites my already restless mind, so I’m left infinitely more preoccupied with the validity of the priest’s sermon than with the message of the day’s gospel.

(The only times that the voices in my head fall silent are when the choir sings—if it’s a good choir that is. What would we all do without the music of the Mass?)

So what I struggle with these days (what I’ve struggled with for years) is to maintain a modicum of fervor when the messages from the pulpit contradict my personal beliefs. Like any intelligent, postmodern Catholic, I walk the fine schizophrenic line between commitment to an institution and fidelity to my views. There is no logical resolution to any of the paradoxes, just the performative reconciliation offered by silence and hope.

And next Sunday, the struggle will continue. But what is faith anyway, if not an exercise in resilience?

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4 thoughts on “On the Contradictions of Faith

  1. Marielle says:

    I enjoyed reading this! I used to have the same thoughts running me, always trying to reconcile the sermon with my personal beliefs up until it dawned on me that a human being like me was wired to counter everything and anything that is beyond the physical. I found a certain kind of spirituality out of trying to reconcile both and I’d like to believe a higher consciousness is but necessary to fully reconcile the physical and the spiritual. Keep writing. 🙂

    Like

    • Eileen says:

      Thank you for the acknowledgment Marielle—what you shared resonates with my experience. 🙂 I’ve found my own faith to be the outcome of learning to live with the questions rather than finding the answers.

      Like

  2. Claire says:

    Hmmm…faith is a gift; more a manifestation of God’s grace than our ability to grit our teeth and soldier on despite our doubts.

    I think/know…that it’s in the moments when we acknowledge the sovereignty of God and our finite ability to control our lives when we get this gift—this grace—that thankfully, is connected to, but not dependent on, being part of a religious institution. 🙂

    Like

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