In my book, Traits of a Healthy Spirituality, I said that one of the signs of a healthy spirituality is the ability to live graciously with a certain amount of ambiguity in our lives. By ambiguity I mean uncertainty, lack of clarity, indefiniteness, doubt. At times we may even experience ambiguity with regard to our faith.
Poet and author, Kathleen Norris, is the author of several wonderful books, including Dakota and The Cloister Walk. She writes of her own conversion to the faith. One day she visited a Benedictine Abbey and was drawn to the prayerful services there. Eventually she began attending the liturgy of the hours. But she assumed that her personal doubts “were spectacular obstacles to faith.” She confided in an elderly monk who told her that her doubts were “merely the seed of faith, a sign that faith is alive and ready to grow.” Our doubts and uncertainties with regard to our faith, then, are often calls to live our faith on a deeper and more authentic level.
In the gospel, the people who had no doubts were the Pharisees who had run-ins with Jesus. They were absolutely certain about their faith. They had all the answers. For them, everything was black and white, good or evil, right or wrong. There were no “gray areas,” no “in betweeness.” Consequently these Pharisees could tolerate no ambiguity. No wonder Jesus drove them crazy with his interpretation of the Sabbath, for example, with his socializing with sinners and women, and with some of his attitudes toward prayer and fasting.
Jesus even told a parable about being comfortable with ambiguity: the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Mt. 13:24-30). The workers on a farm inform the landowner that weeds are growing among the young stalks of wheat. The workers suggest they immediately stomp into the field and pull up all the weeds. But the owner says, “Hold your horses!” (That’s a free translation.) “In your eagerness to get rid of the weeds, you might pull up some of the precious stalks of wheat!” He urges patience. “Let them grow side by side a little longer,” he says. “Then when we can clearly differentiate between the weeds and the wheat, you can go into the field and pull out the weeds.”
Jesus not only told a parable about living with ambiguity, he himself lived with considerable ambiguity throughout his life. As a twelve-year-old boy he was certain it was all right for him to stay behind in Jerusalem for a few days. After all, he was spending that time in the Temple. Only when he was discovered by his anguished parents and scolded by them, did he realize how insensitive and “lacking in wisdom” he had been. Early in his public ministry he endured the uncertainty of his mission. Was he to go around curing people of their illnesses? Was he sent only to the Jews? Was he supposed to lead the people against the Romans as so many were assuming he would do? As he saw his enemies growing in their hostility towards him, was he supposed to back down, flee, fight, or surrender?
In my retreat work, I talk with a lot of individuals who struggle with doubts and uncertainty. I usually suggest that this is a good sign. Their faith is alive–and it is ready to grow. The faith that sustained them in the past needs to develop more to sustain them in the present… Faith is a living relationship, ever changing, ever growing… Their understanding of who God is is constantly evolving. It is never “finished” or “final.”.
May our prayer today be something as simple as this: Loving Jesus, help me to live more graciously with ambiguity, uncertainty, and doubt. May they lead me to ever greater trust in you. Amen.
With regard to your faith, what are you certain of? What are some of the ambiguities of your faith?
How has your image of God evolved over the years? In other words, who was God to you when you were a child? a teenager? a young adult? middle aged? today?
PS: I ask your prayers for a retreat I’m giving for the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana from May 5-10. They tell me over 100 women will be on this retreat entitled, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” I appreciate your prayers!
Our song today is “The Point of Arrival” by Carrie Newcomer. The song sings of doubt… endings… letting go… and arrivals. One of my favorite lines is, “There’s a faith that’s only found in doubt.” Let me know what you think of it…
Do you have anything you’d like to add to today’s blog? If so, please response below.