Flickering faith

… embracing a view of the world that welcomes people who dare and refuses to punish those who are willing to be confused and disoriented in pursuit of something tender, something honest, something true.

I love that passage, and in fact Jen Lemen’s whole post about faith.

I think about this a lot, aching with how much I want to trust, how much I want to have faith. In my deepest heart I do believe there is some order, some design so vast, I really do. But how abstract that seems, in the moments when all seems dark and confusing.

I wonder if my affection for patterns is part of this deep longing for faith: by seeing reassuring, repetitive order in the world I can trust that it is also there beneath the surface. That underneath what may look like chaos there is some scaffolding that makes sense. This likely underlies my affinity for symmetry, for the way the New York skyscrapers look reaching into the sky. Also, my teeth-clicking counting off of things by 8s: cars in a parking lot, bottles of nail polish at the manicurist, window panes across a waiting room. All of these things can be categorized and understood, and I am comforted by what that implies about the greater world.

But at the same time, my favorite images are those of the sky and of clouds. And these have, almost by definition, no symmetry. There, the design is truly so vast as to be not at all obvious to the naked eye. Somehow, the beauty of the sky is in its very randomness and it is this utter lack of pattern that summons my weak faith. Looking at the blue sky streaked irregularly with clouds, I feel as though I can believe.

I suppose it is obvious, then, that it is when the pattern is inscrutable that we must call on faith. When things look messy and confusing, our only option is to trust. In fact, if I could let go of my desperate desire to wrestle the world into an understandable and predictable set of equations and probabilities, I would likely be a lot happier. Of course the reason I cannot let go easily is precisely because my faith is so weak. It is in that space, that free fall between order and disorder that faith catches us. And I’ve never liked the feeling of falling.

Of course, the disorder in the wide world is nothing compared to the disarray inside us. There is no counting off in groups of 8 my feelings, no way to categorize and subdue the instincts and fears that roar in my head. It is here that I need faith most of all: belief that the determined pursuit of emotional truth will take me where I need to go, conviction that getting lost is the only way to be found, trust that I am still safe even when hopelessly lost and buffeted by reactions so powerful they scare me. The sad realization that sometimes even my very best effort is far from good enough lurks around the corners of my consciousness, but I see no option but to continue to try to both understand and manage my reactions.

So I will hope that my flickering faith will strengthen and not go out. I will renew my efforts to let go and believe. I will try to not be afraid of my feelings, to parse the difference between where I can manage my reactions better and where I must just experience them in order to understand. I will welcome the swell of comfort and well-being that sometimes crashes over me like a wave, whether it’s looking at a glorious sky, speaking in unison with other people in church or yoga class, or running my hand through my sleeping son’s hair. I will be grateful for the faith that I do have.