Wait – what?

photoHot, huffing, and puffing, I was four days into my camino. Strangely enough, my knees were not bothering me nearly as much as I imagined they would, nor were my legs too sore, but I was dogged by blisters. And by the overstimulated exhaustion that can come about in the pursuit of a dream. Four days in, I was still a Camino Santiago neophyte without a clue.

Making it to the top of Alto del Perdon was no joke. It was not as steep as it was to get from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson, nor was as long and hard as it was to keep going uphill from there on the way to Roncesvalles. It was however hot! And again, those blisters. Ouchie. Anyway, making it to the top of Alto del Perdon was also a glorious moment – what a famous spot for those who know the Way of St. James! It is the place where the “the path of the wind meets the path of the stars.” In a word – magical.

Alto Sue Fran DeeanneLike most matters of faith, the high is often followed by a challenge. So consumed was I with getting up Alto del Perdon, I gave little thought to getting down. An essential camino lesson for me was this – going down is often far worse than going up. As we began our descent, my weariness gave way to an overwhelming anxiety with each footfall on the steep and rocky path. In fact, I felt certain that I might not be able to get down. I simply believed that I could not do it. And you know where that kind of thinking gets you.

nicodemus nightIn today’s Gospel from John, Nicodemus pays a visit to Jesus. At night. I love this imagery, poor old Nicodemus sneaking into see Jesus under the cover of darkness. It is a real struggle for Nicodemus to understand what it means to be “born again” and to be “born of the Spirit.” Here he is wrestling, like anyone who is inclined to being too literal, wondering how a “man once grown old” gets back into the womb to be born again. As usual, Jesus is trying to tell him. Jesus speaks to us in ways that leave us no place to go but deep into our hearts. Our literal and practical heads won’t allow us to understand, although our literal, practical – you know, our “realistic” heads – the ones that we value in the material world. Overvalue, it would seem.  Nicodemus is basically saying, “Wait – what?” Continue reading

The Beauty of Touch – A Guest Post by Karen Bond

This is a guest post written by Karen Bond. When she shared this with me earlier, I knew it had to go on the blog. Like Karen, I am one to touch things, even if it says “do not touch!” The other thing that struck me was how important a component doubt is as we discern and come to grow in faith. I hope you enjoy her words and imagery. And the reminder that we are an incarnate and tactile people.

-1I love when inspiration hits; a memory of something good; a phrase that sets my mind wandering and that happened in a wonderful way at today’s Mass.

Today was the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Thomas needed to see that Jesus had risen from the dead before he would believe it. It wasn’t because he didn’t trust his friends or Jesus’ word, but Thomas needed to touch him. How many of us does he represent?

When the priest described Thomas as touchy-feely and gave an example from his own life; of his three year old self touching a hot oven after his mother warned him not to, so many things in my mind came flooding to the front. We all have those moments.

This touchy-feely part of the sermon clicked and immediately I thought of my first trip to England and my visit to Warwick Castle.

I am a Doubting Thomas.

If you tell me the water’s too hot, I must put a finger under the tap.
I like to open cabinets and the drawers in the refrigerator, and in a museum, I am an absolute horror to bring along. If it doesn’t specifically say in big bold letters DO NOT TOUCH, it’s a safe bet that I will touch it. Granted, I have not ever climbed up onto a Revolutionary era cannon at The Smithsonian as I saw one young child do, but I have my other moments.

I’ve slid my fingers along the woven edges of medieval tapestries at The Cloisters.
If I’m in an art museum with a roped off masterpiece, I must run a finger along the velvet rope that keeps me from the painting itself.

I’ve touched the fire truck at The State Museum.

When I was visiting my close friends, often a touch on my shoulder relieved any anxiety that had been rising, a hand grabbed and squeezed in friendship elicited a smile, fingers brushing as a cup of tea was passed was a small hug.

Most recently In Wales, the only thing that kept me from rocking and weeping during the flight was my hand on my pocket frog, the cool Lucite against my palm, my thumb rubbing the same spot over and over again. I also liked to rest my hand against the cold stone of thousands years old castles and brickworks and abbey walls.

Touch is the most soothing thing when it’s wanted or when you least expect that you wanted it. I feel this at daily mass every day during the peace part of Mass. I’m a little lost when there is no one around me to shake my hand. That simple touch sets my whole day on a positive note.¬

In Warwick, though, we were able to take a tour of the castle, and we eventually came to a room with a large, stunning chest. We were told that this tower (known as the Ghost Tower) was known to have the ghost of Sir Faulk Greville who was murdered by his servant, and we should listen for it. I think we all chuckled nervously.

The chest was next to a locked door and yes, I turned the old knob. The door didn’t budge in case you were wondering.

As the tour group was heading into the next room, I touched the top of the carved chest. I looked around and tried to lift the lid.

It opened!

It opened quite easily. I was just about to peek inside when a voice began to speak.
I jumped at least ten feet, dropping the lid that fell noisily into its original closed place. I looked around the empty room and ran out after the tour group as fast as I could catch up.

When I met up with them, I realized that it was the tour guide on the other side of the door speaking at the exact moment I lifted the lid. Not quite the ghost I had just started believing in.

Touchy-feely is one of the more adventurous and a most beautiful part of human nature.

Taking a leap of doubt

doubtPoor doubt, I feel kind of sorry for it. Doubt takes such a beating in our culture, and I think that is rather unfortunate. Where would faith be, if not for doubt? Like night and day, like good and evil, like joy and sorrow… well, like so many other opposite points, the space between them is where all the real action is found. How can we so carelessly toss doubt aside, as if it negates everything? For me, the deepest anchors of faith are not dropped in surety and certitude, but deep in the ocean of doubt.

Is our faith more about making leaps of doubt, rather than leaps of faith alone? Can one exist without the other?

Somewhere around 2005 I heard a radio program on the topic of doubt and I was hooked on doubt as a topic to explore. “A History of Doubt” first aired on what was then called “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett,” in 2003.  Tippett’s program, and now podcast, is know known as “On Being,” and  “A History of Doubt” continues to find an audience. The program features Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has made doubt a field of study and exploration.

Today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar, even to those who do not follow the Gospel, is about “doubting Thomas.”  When I was a kid, I used to think badly of Thomas. Was my point of view informed by my faith education? Probably. I don’t have any specific recollection of hearing this – or any other Gospel – as a child, but my “religious instruction” classes, I do remember. Please know that I was spared any “mean” priests or nuns, so none of this is couched in that. What I do remember is that we were instructed that is that doubt was the opposite of faith. It seemed reasonable enough to me, so I went along with it… when I was 10.

Today I have no such vision. What about you? I can only speak for myself when I say that my faith, something that is so real, so powerful, at the heart of my being, is infused with the on-going scent of doubt. Are you shocked or scandalized to hear this?

Not too long ago, I wrote about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, calling him a dangerous man. One of the images that I was holding at that point, was that of the certitude of some of the Pharisees who not only doubted Jesus, but who used that doubt to plot the death of Jesus.

This is one of the challenges of doubt, at least from where I am. Perhaps it is not doubt that comes first, but what comes first is a certain “knowing.” Doesn’t such certitude, such absolutism, say that there is little room for God?  What does such certainty do, when God in fact, can never conform to our limited capacity for knowing God?

So what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? Thomas certainly knew Jesus, didn’t he? But did Thomas know Christ? No – not until that moment of encounter. Go ahead, says Jesus, stick your hand in there, this is for real.

Crooked Kisses and Other WoundsHere is something that I have no doubt of… If Jesus were standing before me, I might faint before I stuck my hand inside of his wound! And perhaps this is where this Gospel leads us to…

What are we so sure of? Do we really love Jesus as much as we say that we do? I mean really, think about it… are you ready to thrust your hand deep into the wound of anyone, even those you love most? Isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do?

imagesLoving Jesus with such hard-core certitude and thinking about how that smarty pants Thomas should have thought twice before questioning God is one thing. It would seem that another way of seeing this is that Thomas offers us a gift… Jesus asks us to enter into the wounds of all. I’m sorry, but that makes me queasy when I think of physical wounds, and overwhelmed when I think of all the other wounds, the ones we can’t see, but that are present in all of us. Thomas, seemingly undaunted, leads the way.

Suddenly certainty has dispersed like fog in the midday sun. We can be so “certain” of so many things, but can we place ourselves inside of the bloody wound? And how can we live Christian lives of sacrifice and service unless we do precisely that – literally and figuratively?

This is where Thomas leads me, and I am grateful to him, and to God, for bringing me to this place where I shrink back, recoiling perhaps in utter horror. Listen, I am VERY squeamish, the thought of such things sends me reeling. Now I can castigate myself for this, or I can see it as an invitation to change.

And is that not what our faith really is, our belief in the Risen Lord? This faith centers around a Triune God, always inviting us, always challenging us, but always welcoming us, to a kind of transformation. That transformation also means moving from doubt to faith, and the constant criss-cross of that territory, for the whole of our lives.

Doubt is nothing to be feared; I believe that doubt is to be befriended. In fact, maybe what we are called to are not only “leaps of faith,” but also of the aforementioned, “leaps of doubt.” Doubt can act as our greatest guide, the very force that leads us into the wounds of Christ and the on-going transformation that follows.  I never doubt that is the way of the Lord, and I never doubt how hard it is to follow and believe in God, living as a Christian. This is no one-time decision, made in certitude and lived in certitude; it is an invitation into the mystery of our faith, a life lived in Christ Jesus.  To do that we must follow and follow and follow…

search_of_certainty1Every day, in one fashion or another, propelled by my doubts, I seek to live more deeply in my faith.  Yes, a good leap of doubt, taken with a heart of faith, can bring us, like it brought Thomas, closer to the Lord, without a doubt.