Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mk. 9:24

I won't say I'm experiencing a "dark night of the soul." I haven't by any means earned that right.

"Dark nights" I'll leave to those who can face them: folks like Mother Theresa or Saint John of the Cross, who continually prayed to and yearned for God. They did so even when -- for decades, in Mother Theresa's case -- they felt no closeness to God in their prayers, and continually ached for God in his absence.

What I'm going through now is something less: an overnight flight delay of the soul.

In an airport lit up like it's noon, my own midnight is spent trying to sleep in a chair that's cleverly designed to prevent it.

Occasionally I get up and pace the terminals; I lug around my tambourine and giant golden harp. Logistically, I know they won't fit in the overhead compartment. What the hell was I thinking? I quietly put the thought out of my mind.

The thought comes back. I rest my hope on the First Class closet, where a few times they've let me stow my guitar.

At 4 a.m. I am downright pissed to find the five foolish bridesmaids, huddled together and dozing off (par for the course) on a bench by the women's bathroom. I see that every one of them has her oil lamp lingering somewhere nearby. This frustrates me: they've got lamps for God's sake -- IEDs if I ever saw them -- while I can't even get through with a six-ounce tube of Colgate.

I suppose I should just let these little injustices slide, and be thankful the six of us got tickets at all.

It's funny: in ways I am a firmer believer now than I've ever been. I unswervingly believe .... something, even something substantial, about God's promise to humanity made through Christ. I believe in God's fervent preference for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and in the responsibility that entails for a privileged kid like me.

I believe that God loves us. It's the one truth I really left seminary with. And that's almost always enough.

But sometimes I'm not sure "doubt" is even the word for what I feel. I find myself somewhere out past Thomas, if as yet shy of Judas.

I hide this from many -- though not all -- of my co-workers and clients. They are steeped in another language, a different language, which they share with me at least a little bit each day. "Holy Spirit-filled." "Just keep praising." "God will work a miracle." "Bathe it in prayer." They worry for the salvation of souls.

Their language feels like a litmus test, which, at least secretly, I continue to fail.

I've learned not to use those terms myself. I say "the Lord" and "Holy Spirit" with the sincerity of a flight attendant, welcoming another hundred people on the plane.

Sometimes, though rarely, the attendant even means "hello." He believes "hello."

Lord, help him with his unbelief.


Kathy Barron said...

When I first left atheism for my version of a Christian in 1977, at age 34, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief" was my favorite meditation. My faith has been trailing off recently, so I have resumed that favorite prayer. My best wishes to you for your walk of faith. There is no other game in town!

Nathan First said...

Best wishes back, Kathy. I'm consoled that Jesus surrounded himself with that gaggle of obnoxious kid brothers and sisters (a.k.a., "ye of little faith") -- although lately I've become far too complacent that my rarely-challenged "little faith" is sufficient. These days I need to return to that latter part of the prayer. HELP THOU my unbelief.