A friend wrote me a few days ago, asking me questions about religion.
I let the questions simmer for a few days before finally typing a brief response—a response that largely went along the lines of: I don’t have any answers, but this is what I do after having spent years looking for answers.
Few things today are as trying as faith—and few things are as easy to sustain on tiny, unexpected graces. When one stops expecting assurance and certainty, consolation shows itself in the smallest things. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to know the reason why—for better or for worse, we’re designed to live in two worlds: the one we see and which we know exists and the one we do not see and which we believe exists—but I’m postmodern enough to realize the futility of my desire.*
Of course, there are days when I lapse into my old habit of yearning for simple and solid truths; days when awareness itself (of contingency, of impermanence) occurs to me as the most nauseating and hateful of burdens. Then I wonder what the point of anything is—what purpose is served by the perpetual motions of striving and struggling.
And then there are days when I wear the burden lightly—joyfully even—knowing that consolations should be savored precisely because they never last.
So this is what contemporary faith looks like to me: It’s about teetering constantly between desolation and consolation. It’s about being sustained by small graces (and the memory of small graces). It’s about being able to see it all and, more critically, being able to embrace it all. It’s about possessing a hope that is inextinguishable precisely because it requires no guarantees—a hope that taxes because it liberates. And finally, it’s about having the courage to admit the fallibility of faith itself while still celebrating the fact that it exists at all.
And no, none of the above are answers, really. But they help—and that’s good enough for me.
* Most of the time, it’s the invisible world that’s far more real. For a species that thrives so much on its sense of sight, we rely disproportionately on the unseen.