Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The rain drops

En route from Chicago, Illinois, to Grand Rapids, Michigan
186 statute miles

Traveling today on the Amtrak, I was able to review some of my old emails, including one that forwarded to me this review of an essay I wrote for the House Studio. Bizarre, to see my deeply felt and carefully constructed article disposed of like so much garbage. And oddly encouraging, in that I don't feel the criticism as deeply as I would have even a year ago. It doesn’t bother me as much as various other rejections, like the one I also received yesterday from the graduate school at the University of Michigan.

One of the books that I read while “adventuring” on Secret was Silence, by Japanese author Shusako Endo. In the novel, a Portugese priest named Father Rodrigues travels halfway across the world in order to evangelize the Japanese. Instead of being nourished by the rich food of faith upon arrival, he finds discouragement, disappointment, and filth. He reviles the Japanese he is supposed to be serving. He flirts with, dancing ever closer to, the seductive poison of apostasy.

Eventually he is imprisoned by the Japanese authorities, to whom any kind of proselytism is illegal. As he sits in prison, images of the face of Jesus and the face of Judas Iscariot flash before his eyes, and he tries to decide whether or not he will walk on the face of Christ when it is presented to him. Thematically, the novel explores the silence of God in the face of his believers’ persecution. Does God accompany followers experiencing adversity, or does he abandon them? And do we abandon him in turn?

That’s apostasy. While I am sympathetic to the priest’s struggle, I refuse to admit that questioning the literal inerrancy of Scripture equates me with him. I am willing to admit that my last post was borne more of that kind of doubt and fear than out of a true spirit of faith. In college, I was taught the concept of the hermeneutical circle, a circle of faith inside which a person is completely alone, forced to make the decisions of life by herself. An atheist, inside of the circle, decides that all of life is purely matter in motion. A Jungian decides that the endless layers of synchronicity he encounters mean something deeply significant about archetypes and the subconscious. A Christian stakes her life on the death and resurrection of the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, simply and solely that.

The biblical prayer is: “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.” I struggle to find my own faith inside of my doubt. I have no other choice. All of us step out in faith, insulated inside the bubble of our own hermeneutical circle. All of us who sit in condemnation are solely responsible for our own choices, our own belief system.

I continue to doubt, walking away from my life as it was. Walking into the unknown, as Father Rodrigues did, forces me to doubt, forces me to throw myself on the goodness and grace of God. The choices I’m making also mean that I’m again walking away from people I care about and love, and walking a path that my family and many of my friends don’t always approve of. That’s difficult. A cognitive tension that I don’t think will ease with the passage of time. I’m trying to walk that line.

2 comments:

wfrenn said...

Melissa,
Every once in a while, I read a post which confirms why I keep up with you! While conflicted, you have the intelligence to work through it, and not settle by a "good-enough" compromise. In that struggle, you transcend the pigeon-holes in which we confine the parameters of our conceptualizations. Such was your insightful comment yesterday on the structural boundaries of our thought, which is worth quoting:
"In college, I was taught the concept of the hermeneutical circle, a circle of faith inside which a person is completely alone, forced to make the decisions of life by herself. An atheist, inside of the circle, decides that all of life is purely matter in motion. A Jungian decides that the endless layers of synchronicity he encounters mean something deeply significant about archetypes and the subconscious. A Christian stakes her life on the death and resurrection of the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, simply and solely that."
Wow! I had only vaguely reflected on this, and never with such clean articulation. You have left some of your co-religionists behind. I am glad the critic's dismissal of your article as so much "garbage," did not get to you overmuch. He is, after all, confined in a comfortable hermeneutic of a book and religious traditions of 2000 years, and is unwilling and unable to discomfort himself enough to use his intellectual gifts to question anything critically, except by the litmus test of whether it harmonizes with his Holy Book. If what you are embarking on is "Apostasy," as you call it, what he is doing is abdication. Abdication of the best and noblest part of what makes humans human: the use of our intelligence to develop a language of reason and rationality.
You critic has to condemn legitimate use of the critical mind if it comes to asking obvious questions in life, and try to delegitimate them by dismissing them with disrespectful language.
While you have your work cut out for you by choosing the more difficult road, I do not doubt that you will arrive at a more satisfying place in life than your
sneering critic!
Be of good heart!
Again, I recommend Rilke for consolation and identity with a thoughtful and articulate artist.

The Capt'n

P.S. Spanish Wells trip is almost full.

Melissa said...

Thank you again, as always, Capt'n, for your lovely and thoughtful comment. I will have to download Rilke for reading during my upcoming journey to Maine. I'm especially glad that you value my continuing battle inside of my own hermeneutical circle, and that even if we come to different conclusions within that, that we can still find solace from one another on the journey.