Dignity in the Deconstruction
These past months have been ones of sorrow and breakthrough, lost and found, seeking, searching, hope and despair. My faith has been evolving in the gentlest and most violent ways, in fits and starts. It’s been hard to take you on a journey where I couldn’t always see the steps ahead. I feel like finally, finally I’m starting to get my bearing and find my direction once again.
It would be dishonest to say that things in my own church haven’t created in me an unacknowledged hunger for something different. And different in spirit if not different in species. I say unacknowledged because I didn’t know I was searching for anything else, but everything else seemed to fall into my lap. It was gradual and then all at once.
I won’t be precious about it all. The actions and reactions of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church have been deeply troubling for some time now. My Catholic faith and my church are not what I once thought they were. And I tried so very hard to stay fiercely devout and obedient even in the face of suffering, rejection, alienation, pain, confusion, and doubt.
Doubt of the message, but certainly not doubt of the Messenger.
I’ve found myself again and again wrestling with my conscience, with my call, and my heart for those whose suffering is far, far greater than my own. I had trouble reconciling. Not in personal reconciliation. In reconciling the Christ I knew with the Christ presented to me.
I am deeply saddened by the loss of a church that over and over proved that actions truly do speak louder than words. But is it a loss of doctrine or a loss of its faithful? Both, I suppose. And the more vicious the actions are proving to be the more they are drowning out the doctrine on which I thought I based my faith. My heart wasn’t drifting, but the ground was shifting beneath me. What I once thought was solid ground turned out to be only sand under my feet.
As I am working through all kinds of things, I am reminded to put aside my notions of who God is and go back to who He claims to be. He speaks to us in scripture and in our lives every moment. He goes before us, He makes a place for us, and He asks us to listen. To actions and words. To faithfulness and kindness. To mercy and love. Once I plugged back into who God has revealed Himself to be for me, I came to one simple conclusion.
My God is the Father to all weary, breaking things.
This Father of mine set into my heart a participation in such a small way of the suffering of the faithful. Even as we claim to be united in faith, we are all experiencing questions, doubts, inklings, repentance, calling, seeking, losing, gaining. And when I entered into this experience of suffering, I found myself completely at home among the broken. I felt belonging with the failing and fading and forgotten.
Scripture says we are one body with many parts. But we are not all functioning in health. Not all functioning with efficiency or agility or fully optimized. Not immune to deconstruction by the nature of our obedience. We can be in full communion and still be falling apart. Yet this faith is far too large to leave anyone out. And right now, we seem to be orthodox in our disorder.
While I was working through this myself, I thought that there must be a middle path between unexamined obedience and outright civil war. There had to be a place where we could reconcile between ourselves in a faith that has become nearly unrecognizable to so many. While this leads to finding new paths for so many, I began to sit comfortably with doubt. With questioning. With authenticity. With longing.
Because if my faith is about bringing hope to the hopeless and giving faith to the doubtful, it means participating in both. As I became more accustomed to letting deconstruction settle in, I realized that what was most feared about doubt and questioning, being lost in outer darkness, is the furthest from what is happening. I began experiencing a greater closeness. A greater encounter. A greater trust. A greater reliance. A greater dependence. A greater desire, even.
There are no winners or losers in the deconstruction of our faith. There are only the encountered and the Encounterer. There is only fellowship with God. And broken communion with others.
We are none of us left out from the dance of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, and disbelief. We have all wrestled with it at one point, to varying degrees. Even the greatest and most blessed among us. And who’s to say the desert fathers and the great martyrs and the hermits of our early church ever had certainty about faith? Ever lived in total assurance and orthodoxy. Ever lived in compete obedience and accord and communion with the faith.
Our forebears set a road before us that they knew was treacherous, dangerous, and trying to even the most robust souls. Their example encourages us to follow the voice of our Shepherd, even if the path is uncertain. Are there dangers? Yes. Are there riptides and cross currents and undertow? Yes. We must trust that our God is larger, with an inescapably stronger force than any terrestrial one.
I find that when we warn or condemn or call out heretics, reflexively and almost instinctually, for their doubt and questioning, we can show our distrust for God’s relationship with others and how big and awesome and powerful He really is. We can also cast doubt on others’ sacred journey and lose focus on our own. And I believe that to dignify other paths is to give grace to our own.
My own path is full of so much uncertainty, but know that none of my doubts or questions are easily or flippantly expressed. I take all things into deep consideration. Probably to my own fault if I’m honest. I have doubts about certainty, about what I used to believe, about the things I built my life around. I see holes everywhere in the structure of my faith. Despite my conflicted mind, my heart is still closely following my Shepherd.
This is not to say that truth or certainty are imaginary constructs. No. They are the very bedrock of my belief. They are the stones I build my faith upon. I think the fewer these truths are, the more precious I find them and the more carefully I protect and tend to them.
The truth is, we get to choose the line between truth and mystery in our own faith life. I think that to believe is to wrestle and question. To have faith is to make room for doubt and mystery.
I believe we can create our own creed without abandoning our faith’s. These are just two expressions of certainty. They can be concurrent. Both/and is a possibility in the heart of this believer. Were there only certainty than synods and councils wouldn’t ever be necessary. It is with doubt and questions that we have formulated our beliefs in this church. They are my sacred inheritance as a catholic believer.
While mystery and doubt and deconstruction are valid expressions of a faith life, I have to recognize the beauty and wonder of a simple faith, a simple Gospel, and a childlike belief. Here again, I can hold both mysteries in the human heart.
Jesus spoke to his adult disciples a great love and admiration of children. Knowing they were grownups who stumbled through their faith and belief and actions and were not at a place of childlike faith. He pointed it out to honor their journey and remind them of the possible. Someplace in between adulthood and infancy. Somewhere between maturity and innocence.
I believe that’s where the incarnation and the miracle of Christ meet us today. In great turmoil and upheaval but encountered deeply, personally, truthfully, and humbly. Jesus Himself is a complexity and a mystery that even caused His earthly parents to question, “who is this child among us?”
The holy family seemed to be built on both incredulity and obedience, maybe even crafted from it. The doubtful and certain yes at the Annunciation and the doubtful and certain yes to Christ’s doubtful and certain paternity. Even Joseph was deeply conflicted and uncertain and obedient and reluctant and so very human and questioning. At each fork in the road, he asked and was answered. He encountered more deeply as he questioned and then trusted more.
I read recently from author Sarah Bessey that “your questions, your doubts, your curiosity, your losses do not make you a liability to Jesus.” I firmly believe that. It may make me a liability to my faith, but not to the heart of a loving, merciful God. When I respect and find dignity in my own deconstruction and doubts, I am allowing myself to expose my humanity. To open myself to true mystery and Divinity.
Because God is truly a mystery. Not in a gnostic, Kabbahlistic way, where only the enlightened and initiated among us can encounter the living God. No, He is a mystery in His very being. One Who cannot be fully comprehended until we see Him face to face in the eternities. And that mystery has a certain assurance in it. That there are things far larger and far grander than an earthly church, holy and broken and set apart as she is. There is a wildness in God’s love and in His very nature. A wilderness place that calls us to greater encounter.
God has been beckoning me toward the desert, as in the exodus, as in Hosea 2:14, as in the temptation of Christ, and my deconstruction journey has been to know Him more fully. To put aside my certainty and comfort and a predictable faith. To chase after a Promised Land He has always promised to His believers. He is asking me directly and through the lives of others to put aside my certainty and allow space in my heart for a little mystery, a little doubt, a little wonder, a little of the unfathomable. Awestruck in His Prescence once again.
In this, I really wish I could comfort and accompany every believer on their path toward real encounter. To be a companion on the journey. I do write these things to comfort and accompany you, humble as my offering might be. If you are in a place of doubt and confusion and bewilderment, know that you are not alone. You are not alone in either the spiritual or temporal sense. You have travel companions, fellow pilgrims. I don’t pretend to point in any particular direction. I will only stay honest and authentic to each step of the journey.
In this journey, I am beginning to find hope again. Beginning to allow God to untangle the cords and knots of my heart a little. Beginning to sense freedom and light and fresh air on the other side. I don’t believe I was made for permanent despair and doubt. I firmly believe God put it in my heart to keep hoping, keep praying, keep seeking, and keep finding. And it seems the first rays of sunlight are peeking through the cracks in the sky above me.
I have hope for myself and my own journey. I don’t know that I have the capacity to have hope in my faith any longer. I have carried this burden of hope for far too long on my own. I have thought that I could change it, I could inspire it, I could craft it, redeem it, maybe even save it. But that is not my place and not my position. It is up to my Father, and I gladly surrender the burden.
I am glad and grateful for the deconstruction. I am looking forward to the future for the first time in a very long time. I am following closely after my Savior, and listening keenly for His voice. I am attentive to the fruits of any path where He leads me and am anxiously willing to “let that grace, now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.”