Sunday, October 11, 2009

Preparing Places

My little brother’s best friend at the international high school he attended in France was a delightful kid from Norway whom I always appreciated for getting my little brother into poetry. The two boys shared the best parts of themselves with each other, I suppose; the Norwegian gave his sometimes-macho friend a love for poetry, and the American gave his European-atheist friend his faith. By the time both boys moved back to their respective motherlands for their senior year of high school, the former atheist was returning to blaze a new trail as a Christian in an a-religious country. It was quite beautiful.

Which is why it broke my heart when he visited us in the States three years later and broke it to me that he had given up trying to be a Christian, and was back to being as staunch an atheist as ever.

“I really did try for years,” he explained to me. “I prayed. I attended church. I read my Bible. But after two years I looked back and realized I still didn’t even believe God existed, and I could no longer try to fool myself. If I could believe, I would have. It’s not a matter of whether or not I want to believe; I just don’t.”

Had I been a healthier Christian, it might have shaken my faith a bit to hear his account of God not showing up, or at least God not showing up in a way that the young man could identify, not showing up in a way that mattered. Instead, that anecdote went onto some running list of why God is frustrating to me and sat there for a few years.

And then this week my little sister brought it up again, and her words resonated with the seminarians’ thoughts about the middle voice of faith this past summer.

“I was thinking about how he tried to believe for years and then realized that he still didn’t believe,” she mused. “But I wonder if maybe trying to believe is believing.”

Maybe she is right. Maybe, all those times this past spring that I tried to believe God was redeeming the hell of my Muslim friend’s life when I didn’t understand it or feel it or know what to do, maybe trying to believe was believing.

If my friends are right and faith is a gift rather than something we can conjure within ourselves, then maybe the call to have faith is a call to make space for it. Our part in living a life of faith perhaps involves preparing the places where faith would be living if it were there. For me last spring, that involved being a part of my Muslim friend’s life when everyone else seemed to back away. For my brother’s Norwegian friend, it had involved his prayers to a God he didn’t know existed.

Perhaps that is why the Church throughout the centuries has been praying the Liturgy of the Hours. At regular intervals throughout the day, whether one is feeling holy or profane, whether he is happy or sad, whether he connects with the words or numbly reads them off like a grocery list, he prays. If faith were to make its home in a person, I suppose that might be one place it would live.

1 comment:

learning to walk said...

The thing your sister might have been referring to was this dialog:

"I understand belief."

"No-you desire belief."

"I desire it enough to act as if I believed. Maybe that's what faith is."

"Or deliberate insanity."

On a side note, you really should read these books someday.