Advent Week 2: Faith (or the lack thereof)

Faith has rarely come easily for me. So when I realized this morning that the theme of the 2nd week of Advent was “Faith”, I choked. I thought about giving up on this self-imposed challenge of sharing images that inspire me around each week’s Advent theme. I thought about all the pictures I had ready and waiting to post on love and peace. But Faith? I had nothing; I wasn’t even sure where to start, except for the mental images and memories that were swirling through my mind…

I’m 12, standing in the back of the church. I’m a Jr. Deacon and it’s my job to help serve communion. But I freeze. I know we’re about to transition to serving the elements and I’m afraid. I’m not sure I believe this stuff and so I’m not sure I should be serving the elements, yet I’m too afraid to admit that to anyone. So instead, at the last moment, I run downstairs and hide in the bathroom, forcing someone else to step in and take my place.

I’m 20-something, working at a church while simultaneously working on my bachelor’s at UNH. The Pastor gives a sermon, an “alter call” of sorts, and even though I’ve committed and recommitted my life to Jesus many times, even though I’ve had some truly genuine “faith experiences”, even though I’ve been on numerous mission trips and I’m working at a church, I find myself wondering, “Do I really believe this stuff?” And so, after the service I muster up all my courage and make my way into his office. “Ummm…. do you have a minute? Can I just tell you that most days I believe, but some days I still have a lot of doubts about God? I don’t know if that means I’m not a real Christian or what…” And how he responds forever changes my spiritual trajectory: “Well, Jen, of course you do! We all have doubts at times. If we were 100% certain, there would be no need for faith! At the end of the day, we’re all just betting our lives on God.”

I’m 26, on a retreat with a bunch of people de-toxing from a version of Christianity that in many ways hasn’t served us well. One of my friends speaks up and says, “Guys, I just have to tell you, I’ve been living as an Atheist for a while now and it’s so… freeing. Wherever you are on your journey, I just encourage you to not be afraid to face your questions and doubts and let go of constructs that aren’t serving you.” I’m a little bit shaken by his admission. I pipe up, mostly out of my need to cling to something that’s certain amidst a sea of uncertainty, “I hear you and there are a lot of things that don’t make sense to me but… at the end of the day I feel a lot like Peter when he says, “Lord, where else can I go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”

I’m 30-something and I hear Audrey Assad sing Drawn to You. Something resonates so deeply within my heart…

After everything I’ve had.
After everything I’ve lost.
Lord, I know this much is true,
I’m still drawn to you.

I’m in my 40s now and I still relate more to doubting Thomas than any of the other patron saints. However, I’m learning to see these walls (walls of doubt, walls of deconstruction, walls of desolation etc.) as an important part of my spiritual journey. Recognizing, naming and even welcoming them seems to be a step of faith for me, in some weird way. I think because working through these walls gives way to a greater understanding of an experiential love of Christ that religious constructs will never be able to hold.

So over the next week I’ll be posting images that remind me of places where I have found faith and spaces where I have experienced faith as far more than mental assent to doctrinal statements. I would love to see or hear from YOU: Where have you found or experienced faith? What does it look like in this season of your life? What is it NOT?

I took this photo in Calcutta, India in 2004.
For me, the heaviness was palpable as I volunteered in a couple of Mother Theresa’s homes. I wasn’t sure how to make sense of all I was experiencing, but this painting of Jesus with open arms which stood in front of the chapel area where we stayed, it captured me. I have returned to this image many times over the years. I love it because it reminds me that Jesus always moves toward us within open arms, even in our darkest places.
This photo, a reflection of me
and my young son peering into a pond, reminds me of an ancient text called “The Cloud of Unknowing”. It also reminds me of the words of Paul, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
This photo was taken on the
train tracks I crossed almost daily on my morning walks when we lived in Wilmington, MA. When I took it, I was struck by how foggy and uncertain my life felt at the time. I sensed an invitation to slow down and trust the tracks. That seems like a good description of faith – acting on trust, even when we can’t see the whole picture.Sometimes the parallel tacks of doubt show up too, and that is ok!
This photo was taken in Wells, Maine (2020). I doubt I will ever be a surfer, but I think there’s something about going out after waves that feels a lot like faith, at least from a metaphorical perspective. Most days, I’d rather take invitation to go a little deeper even with the inherent risk involved, than play it safe on the shore.
Arlington National Cemetery (2007) It takes faith to believe there’s more than just dust and bones; it also takes faith to believe we are ONLY dust and bones. And I suppose the real paradox of faith is believing that BOTH are true.
This image is fairly recent (Fall 2022). It was taken at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. When I look at it, I am reminded that sometimes faith involves trusting that certain doors open and certain doors close for reason (though it’s usually not very clear at the time).

2 responses to “Advent Week 2: Faith (or the lack thereof)”

  1. Cleaned up a little:
    Advent week 2…

    I think faith is not something that scientists (or aspiring or even fake scientists) get a hard pass on.

    Scientists are just as much proponents of faith as the most esoteric mystic in history. We all rely on the “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Heb 1:11).

    Because truth be told as we even observe a thing, I hear there are quarks changing directions — influenced it appears, by our very “observation” of the thing.

    And so for the scientist and the mystic, the experience of this planet is one of faith. Both merely think they experienced something and both look for repeatability for confirmation (or not). So everything in this plane of existence is by faith. Nobody escapes faith when it come down to it because we all rely on the “hope” that we understand.

    Heck we barely understand what consciousness is and how to be conscience of our consciousness! We’re all just hoping we understand it.P

  2. Faith is the glue that keeps me on my walk. When I find myself doubting, I look inside to see what is bothering me. Most often it’s the people who call themselves people of God that are behaving in a manner that doesn’t point to God. So I have to refocus, and refill and keep moving on that path.

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