Skip to main content

Connect with Tucker!

Find Us On Campus

Tucker Foundation
6154 South Fairbanks Hall
Hanover, NH
03755-3529
Phone: (603) 646-3350
Fax: (603) 646-2645
Email: Tucker.Foundation@Dartmouth.EDU

Kurt Nelson

Faithing and Doubting.

In my work with groups like the multi-faith council
we seek first to understand faith and religion
in terms of narratives and experiences,
and later in terms of theology and philosophy.

And I simply cannot deny
That in my own narrative of faith
my most significant faith moments
are not baptisms or confirmations, or sermons, or services.
they are rather what I've come to call "spiritual crises."

Moments of disruption and change.
effected sometimes by communities,
people and experiences,
and sometimes by intellectual exploration.

For you here who are certain of your relationship with God.
For whom Faith and Certainty are one and the same,
I love you.
I'm glad you're here.
I hope you continue to share your perspectives.
But mine is a very different story.

So today I want to share with you briefly
about three of these moments,
and what I think they mean to my life of faith.

I remember well my very first spiritual crisis,
In retrospect, it's amongst the more significant moments of my life.

I was 13 or 14.
One day at school
during an inexplicable amount of free time.
And there were 4 of us sitting around a table.
Ashley, Katie, Katie and me.
Katie 1 was a classic agnostic,
having grown up with no religious context whatsoever.
Ashley was as strong and committed a Catholic as a middle schooler could be.
Katie 2 had been a sort of Christmas/Easter Christian,
whose basic beliefs had been shaken by the death of a close family member,
And she was beginning to find a home with a reform Jewish synagogue.
And for some reason,
Our talk turned to the afterlife.
And Ashley began repeating what she'd almost certainly heard from some older Christian.
that, quite simply, without Jesus, everyone would go to hell.
Katie 1 was visibly angered by this.
but Katie 2 was simply hurt,
As much, I think, by the method of conversation,
as the content.
And I was strangely silent.
Not sure how to engage.
Katie decided to leave religion behind.
And I felt guilty.
But more,
I was confused about this thing called religion.
called Christianity.
Which seemed to me to be about worship and love,
about service and grace.
Not about drawing the circle of in and out.
And while it was necessary for me to delve deeply into what I thought about heaven and hell.
The more important turn,
to work through this particular crisis,
was deciding that I would engage these questions in a different way.
With a desire to learn from those different from me.
Which shapes still how I think about these conversations today.

Skip ahead a few years to my third major crisis of faith.
An increasingly common experience.
Days after I stepped onto my college campus.
Not sure exactly where I stood religiously.
And I heard from groups of "Christians,"
about how they were the real "Christians,"
and others weren't.
Theologically, they were in a different place than I,
but what's more,
they were jerks.
And I decided I didn't want any part of any of it.
It took me longer to work through this one.
This question of the value of religious community
in the face of all its possible pitfalls.
But, in the end,
it helped me and changed me.
Pointed me past notions of who's in, and who's out,
toward basic understanding of community,
and what I wanted it to look like.

Jump ahead again,
to one of my most recent spiritual crises,
In a seminar in my final semester of Divinity School
Exploring the great theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher's notion,
Of the impersonal God
God as the inter-workings of the universe,
as the system of life.
I thought, "this resonates with me intellectually,
but it just doesn't feel right."

I was up a full night,
grappling with this conflict between head and heart.
And decided ultimately that it was a tension with which I could live.
And have ever since.

These are a few of the moments that have formed me,
that shape my belief,
my sense of God and the world.
and faith.

Doubting and Faithing.

Sometimes struggling,
Always exploring deep questions,
Questions deeper than simple skepticism,
Real, existential doubt.

When I share such moments in some Christian contexts,
Many Christians in their,
shall we say,
"golden years"
thank me for sharing my "journey."
And while I tend to like thinking about faith as a journey,
The implication seems to be that I,
As a doubter,
And a young doubter at that,
Am on a journey,
And they are at a destination.

But I think that's not quite what I'm after.
Rather, I think this sort of deep doubt,
And a kind of real, living faith,
Are but two sides of the same coin.

That it is real doubt that keeps us questioning and wondering,
Allows us to be open to new experiences, understandings and people.
And it is real faith that allows us to be secure in going down those roads,
Living in a productive, vibrant tension.

We see, as Paul says,
In a mirror, dimly.
Darkly.
And, I believe,
This is not something we grow out of in this lifetime.

After I spoke last term,
about hope and waiting,
and about our inability to grasp God,
A certain College Chaplain and newly appointed Dean,
who shall remain nameless,
said, "so you've taken away certainty,
and left us with...nothing."

(We can talk about cynicism another time)

But, I think rather that this doubting and faithing is a beautiful thing.

Anxiety-producing, sleep-depriving,
Beautiful moments.
Moments of deep spiritual openness,
that I've come to honor and cherish.

These moments of questioning not only the details of faith, scripture and revelation,
but rather the organization of the universe itself,
and my place in it.
The existence and nature of God,
the purpose of my life.
the nature of meaning,
and whether meaning exists at all.

These are moments,
for me,
of deep doubting and deep faithing.
And I feel secure and open enough,
to honor and allow them.

To learn and grow from them.
And this is, I think, a wonderful gift.
A gift of faith.

For each of these moments,
so far,
has pointed me to a sense,
that the world does indeed have meaning,
though I may never know it.
That God is out there,
and in here,
Though never able to be grasped,
and that I do have a purpose,
though it may change and mold.

For me, this is who I am,
doubting and faithing.
And for me, that's okay.
that's good and beautiful.
And that's what faith looks like.
And I don't think I'm alone,

A recently published collection of Mother Teresa's essays,
revealed a darker side to her life of faith.
In the midst of beginning her bold and daring work,
With the sickest of the sick
And poorest of the poor in Calcutta,
She was,
As she said,
In a period of deep spiritual darkness.
The profound sense of physical connection she felt to God,
Had left her.
And indeed would never return.
And yet she worked, and loved,
And existed as an example for all to see.
Later in her life,
She wrote about "learning to love the darkness."

We see, so says Paul, darkly.
And if we can learn to love that,
Rather than trying to escape it,

I believe it frees us,
To live, faithing and doubting,
Open to new possibilities,
Willing to live and love and work.
Loving the darkness of our doubt and our faith.
Which can become,
In a sense,
One and the same.

 

 

Last Updated: 8/7/11