Doubt on Good Friday
A strange grief has washed over me this week, and I've had a hard time putting a finger on it's origin or cause. But then I was accosted by a giant Easter Bunny the other day at a grocery store (true story, and it was straight out of my Donnie Darko nightmares), and I realized: it's Holy Week. And I am a skeptic. A doubter. At the very least, a recovering evangelical with some open wounds, and a deep distrust for the Christian church.
For Christians, this is a week of expectation, meditation, silence. A preparation for celebration. It can be tumultuous emotionally as we contemplate the arduous and violent sacrifice of God-made-flesh in a redeeming act of love for humanity. There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain. Then bursting forth in glorious day... We beckon, we worship with palms - waving branches, expectant of those that are pierced. We pray in the garden, trying to stay awake, and we betray him by the fire outside the temple. We wait for grace.
But I write that paragraph, and it just feels stale and empty. I've followed a path of questions in the last few years about who God is and what faith means, and while I appreciate the journey, I feel like I'm out here on a mountain alone. Does God really think gay people are living in sin? Should women really be subordinate to their husbands? And the ultimately scary question for a doubter: is salvation really necessary? I can see my old life in the valley below, everyone still working and living as they did before. It's like the light comes from within them as they mill about, a soft and joyful melody. I want that inner peace, that sense of commitment to a higher power or cosmic order. But from my vantage point, I can see a lot more than I ever did before. And there is a peace in that, I suppose.
The questions have felt like clouds, bringing in a storm, but they also push heavy shadows across the valley floor, throwing cracks and fissures into relief. And contrast illuminates truth, too.
I used to shirk away from doubters. Their cynicism made me cringe. Their anger seemed unjustified. And now I am one of them.
There is something really beautiful about this wild and seemingly solitary walk, though. I used to rely on others for affirmation of my faith, like pastors or friends or professors. But now all I have is the wind and silence and music and the artifacts of my past belief to pour over in this self-examination.
And in some really weird way, despite all the grief of this week, I must admit: stepping away from all of this has made me feel closer to God.
In my solitude and questioning, I have found that I am still connected, and perhaps more connected than ever before. I've dropped all the formulas and the doctrine and the language of my youth, like I would in a thought experiment at school. Test the favored assumptions. Take out a variable or add another one. Control for culture and context. Is it still significant?
A few years ago, I visited the Vatican, and the tour culminated with an opportunity to walk through the Holy Door to St. Peter's Basilica. You were only supposed to do it if you were a practicing Catholic. As we approached the door, I debated in my head about whether or not Peter and Jesus would understand my desire to participate in a liturgical practice that wasn't really my own anymore. But then I remembered Peter and Jesus walking out onto the water in the storm, and I thought, they'd understand someone who earnestly wants deeper faith, and will try anything to do it. In their own attempt at belief, they overturned material science and changed the structure of molecular bonds in water, so, yeah, I think they'd understand me walking through a door way.
In my grief, I have found clarity. In my disbelief, or questions, I have found Love. A new statement of faith, or maybe of doubt:
I still believe that there is a Designer of the Universe, a Source, a Love.
But now, I believe we call that Force "God" because of our desire to name and code things.
I still believe God is bold for justice, and eager to love us into a higher state of being.
But now, I believe that if this were true, this divine Love would show up in lots of different forms all around the world so that as many people as possible could hear "Be still, and know that I am God" and understand it in their language, both linguistically and, perhaps more importantly, culturally.
I still believe that Jesus was connected to God in a unique and transcendent way that allowed him to eclipse the laws of time and space, and perform miracles.
But now, I question if Jesus is the only one who can have that connection, if Jesus is the only conduit to the divine Source of all that we see and know. Because the thing is, there is so much beyond what we see and know. What we see and know are proof of that which we don't see and don't know. Time, gravity, dark matter, the expanding Universe, the infinite trajectory of light, the multiverse. They're all proof that we have very little proof. Everything we are sure of is just a fraction of all there is to be sure of. And surely we've been wrong about a few things. Like God not letting gay people into Heaven.
Holy Week for a doubter like me is a fickle thing. I grieve for what I've lost. I feel left out. And yet I've chosen my exclusion or separation. Salvation seems like a balm for wounds of our own creation, as we code the world to order it, and yet - there is a mystery to grace, a mystery to love, a mystery to evil that is unresolved.
The stone has yet to be rolled aside in my faith. Doubt is my meditation this year. Questions, my holy act. I picture myself as Peter, the storm raging all around me, looking out towards divinity. Should I step out out onto the water?