I envy people who can accept faith as a given. For them, belief in God and the spiritual world either is or is not. And the “is not” requires no consideration at all.
The power of prayer cannot be debated. Intellectualizing the meaning of Christ’s life and death on the cross is unacceptable. Scripture is to be read and discussed to achieve better understanding of meaning, and how that meaning translates into our behavior and depth of faith. And there are a plethora of writers and leaders who explain what that meaning is or should be.
Everything about that belief system is based on deductive reasoning. The words are inviolable because they are God’s message to us. It is blasphemous to think otherwise. And people who blaspheme are to be pitied and prayed for, lest they fall into depravity. They are transgressors who are a danger to themselves and others.
Absolutes. Inescapable truisms. The need to subjugate one’s own will to that of the Lord. Acceptance of a spiritual world that is typically referred to as a kingdom, with a benevolent God who expects all of us to follow his guidance without questioning that authority. Thy will be done.
C.S. Lewis approached the topic of faith as an inductive thinker. In nearly all his books on faith and religion, everything tended to percolate up. As depicted in the movie biopic of a portion of his life, Shadowlands, he struggled with the topics of suffering and grief. In short, he could intellectualize God’s will regarding the purpose and value of human despair. But, when faced with suffering and grief in a highly personal experience associated with the illness and death of his wife, his theorizing unraveled.
He had been down that road before with the death of his mother and another woman with whom he felt a special closeness. Those events shook him to the core, but it was the illness and death of his beloved wife that tested his faith almost to the limit.
Intellectualizing loss, grief and the role of God in our lives did not protect Lewis any more than it protects me from my wife’s Alzheimer’s. But try as I might, switching from inductive to deductive faith isn’t working very well either. I still can’t shift my faith to an unbounded “thy will be done,” or the “it is what it is” phrase so popular today.
How can a husband, or anyone else, view faith as a solace for overcoming unremittent sadness and grief? In trying to answer that question, I wonder what the phrase, “we are praying for you” means to those who say it and those who hear it.
I admit to being a kind of C. S. Lewis Christian, one who understands how words and phrases can be interpreted to create a highly personal kind of Christ-centered faith. While nowhere nearly as insightful or intelligent as Lewis was, I can identify with his search for linguistic meaning. In Mere Christianity for example.
So, I’ll beg your forgiveness now because I will kind of stumble through an ecclesiastical minefield, a venture that might have the potential to offend or be misunderstood. The reason I’m nervous is that I don’t want any reader to think I’m insensitive to the love and caring of friends, members of a church congregation, or any other devout believers who honestly and sincerely seek to give me comfort.
I feel the depth of their spirit-based empathy and appreciate it enormously. Their motives and love for me are never in doubt.
It’s just that the phrase, “we are praying for you” tends to fall into an emotional vacuum for me.
It’s hard to explain why. I know that individuals and groups will refer to me by name in sincere and beautifully articulated prayers. They will ask that I be comforted and request that my wife be shielded from any kind of pain and distress as she navigates the stormy waters of progressive dementia.
I think that’s called “intercessory prayer.” It is thought to be especially powerful because the prayer is lifted up by many in my name, and on behalf of my wife. Many churches, including my own, systematize it through use of prayer lists. Communal activities carefully and prayerfully ensure that no one is overlooked. and ensure that ongoing circumstances such as ours are always uppermost in their minds.
When I’m told I am being “prayed for,” I know it is true. I know it is authentic. I know it is believed to be powerful. And I love the people who participate because they want me to be comforted as much as possible.
So, does my problem mean I’m a man of little faith? Am I a cynic? Is my status as a Christian questionable?
Would “we are thinking of you” be any better for me? Probably not, although I treasure the sentiment in the same way I appreciate condolences when a loved one dies.
“They mean well” is the usual explanation. And I know they do.
I guess my problem goes back to the topic of engagement. Such as when a condolence or expression of prayerful concern is clearly heartfelt enough for me to feel it both emotionally and spiritually. Deep down. With unmitigated love woven into it.
When the other person or persons somehow convey a deep connection with me, an enveloping kind of thing stays with me for hours or even days. The other person’s prayers may not necessarily be articulate or part of a systematic process. But they strike me as being expressions of deep Christian empathy and a oneness of the spirit.
It’s as if our souls have become engaged spiritually.
And I know how significant that connection is with me. I know because it pervades my thoughts and emotions.
And I also know it can be dangerous in the context of giving it a meaning that does not or should not exist. It must not have anything to do with carnality or personal attraction. It takes maturity on the part of both the recipient of a caring remark, and the one who offers it unguardedly, to keep it in the realm of authentic, moral, and lasting comfort.
What do you think concerning my views on faith? Are you more deductive in your approach to faith? Please don’t think I reject that view for those who want and benefit from it. I’m just telling you who I am as I negotiate the rocky road of grief as the husband of a wife with Alzheimer’s.
Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.
©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved
3 thoughts on “7. Faith”
I deeply appreciate your sharing of these essays. I lived through the Crusades growing up. More than once I have seen people refuse to eat with others because of religion. The Mennonites shun – or what fun. I began that journey at an early age. It was all so silly. My gmother made me a dress, my mother hated it because it was a Mennonite dress. I like it because my gmother made it for me. At 14 was sent through catechism twice. It made so sense. This journey have been a lifetime journey. My travels and inquisitive mind has been a blessing. I cannot be labeled with one religion – it as global. One of my favorite books is, The Art of Happiness, D. Lama. There is a poem in there I cherish and share it in ed. class. I find it cleansing. This is a similar one, I tried to find the precise one I wanted to find. Daily Prayer, by Shantideva, Buddhist sage 700 A.D., IndiaPrayer performed each morning by His Holiness the Dalai LamaMay I be a guard for those who need protectionA guide for those on the pathA boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the floodMay I bea lamp in the darknessA resting place for the wearyA healing medicine for all who are sickA vase of plenty, a tree of miraclesAnd for the boundless multitudes of living beingsMay I bring sustenance and awakeningEnduring like the earth and skyUntil all beings are freed from sorrowAnd all are awaken(on the Global Ministries, USA site)
In recent years, I have occasionally reflected on your painful journey with Barbara down the one-way trail which is Alzheimer’s. Shed tears on your behalf and hers and for my own comparably insignificant pain at the loss of a treasured friend.
Your seven, heartfelt posts have shown me exactly how embarrassingly shallow my understanding of what you are going through has been. I am grateful for your openness. And appalled by the added stress COVID-19 isolation surely meant for you.
We women are blessed with a greater freedom and inclination to turn to each other for emotional support. Only men in similar circumstances can fully relate to what you are going through. I sincerely hope your honest and insightful words will reach other men facing similar struggles. I believe there is comfort in knowing one is not alone in facing deeply troubling situations.
Thanks to you and Robert for always being ready to help. It means more than you know! I don’t know how I would have gotten through the few years before Barbara was admitted to PEC.