Friday, April 5, 2013

The Ability Not to Understand

This past Sunday was Easter Sunday, Christians’ most celebrated holiday in which believers commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a joyous occasion, coming off the heels of the darker days of the Lenten season. Megan and I drove down to St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem where our friend Heather is a priest. It was a day of extra celebration at the parish because Heather and Mike’s 9-month-old daughter Eleanor was being baptized. What a special day!
I entered into this day with appreciation for the sacred rituals of baptism and Easter celebration, yet questions of the underlying meaning and rules to these religious practices. I’ve recently been looking at the world through lenses of doubt and skepticism when it comes to religion and faith. These lenses are tinted grey and seem to blur my vision while simultaneously sharpening my thoughts.
The priest who gave the sermon yesterday made some comments that caught my attention. First was his mention that doubts and questioning are normal and good in a person’s faith journey. I fully agree. Then he said that we should ask God for “the ability not to understand.” The ability not to understand. We should want to not have all the answers? I’ll be the first to admit that there is a lot that I don’t understand, and never will. Especially when it comes to faith, my answer to many of the difficult questions is: “I don’t know.” Often I think that’s the best answer. It’s the honest truth. I actually love that answer. Too often, we Christians think we need to have solid, definitive answers to all of the tough questions of faith, life and God. So we create some answer that we think sounds good, blurt it out with quavering confidence, and try to make ourselves and others believe it. But the truth is, we really don’t know. We may believe one thing or another, lean to one side or the other, but there are so many things that we can’t truly know. They aren’t for us to know. Because we are not God. And so much of faith is a mystery. That’s what makes it faith rather than fact, right?
The priest also asked the question: “What makes believing the resurrection difficult?” We can all think of a dozen answers to that question. And then he went further with the question: “What might be possible if it’s true?” And that’s where Hope enters the picture. Hope is a grey word; but it’s a beautiful word. Faith, trust, desire, expectation – these are all wrapped up in a spirit of Hope. With faith, there is so much that we truly do not have the ability to understand. We can’t have the answers. So we have Hope. How wonderful to hope in a God that loves you and created you and desires good for you. How comforting to hope that we will see those we have loved and lost once again. How amazing to hope that we are all truly equal in God’s eyes.
So I’ll continue down this faith path with questions and doubts along the way, but mainly Hope. I will fully embrace my ability not to understand, while continually exploring the possibilities of Hope.
Life of Pi
Life of Pi by Yann Martel is one of my favorite books and I am rereading it right now.  While it is an adventurous story of a boy and a tiger on a lifeboat, it has deep faith aspects as well.  In the words of Pi:
Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer... Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love.

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