My anxiety comes from the realization that the secure foundations upon which I’ve built my life aren’t secure at all. I look at the faithful, the people who let God be a driving force in their lives, and I think: I want that. I want an anchor like that; a rock; a tether; a foundation upon which to build my life. I want the peace of it, so that when I wake in the night fearing fire, storm, poverty, hunger, disease, death, there can be the comfort, the love, the purpose of God. Perhaps, I think, faith can squelch anxiety and fear. No need to freak out when you’ve got faith. Go ahead and follow God’s path, don’t fear the nettles, the potholes, the cracks in the sidewalk. One foot in front of the other, step by step, don’t mind the turns and curves and traffic jams. When in doubt, be awed by beauty, or be filled with gratitude for the sunshine and healthy children and food on the table.
A terrific religious streak runs through my dad’s side of the family. I’ve got the impression that we come from a long line of evangelicals, and the thinking goes: give it away to God; all the bad stuff, bad dreams, self-doubt, sadness, despair, disappointment, fear of loss, fear of frost, give it away to God, make way for the love you will receive in return, the love that is there whether you choose to receive it or not. I had a strong faith as a child, spurred on by my Gramma Dag’s unflinching belief. Even as I was falling out of faith, which hurts as bad as falling out of love, I had a thought that I’d come back to it.
One Christmas when I was 17 or something my Gramma Dag sent me a poem that was called ‘Twas the Night Before Jesus Came. I remember making fun of this poem, thinking how silly it was, How God wasn’t real, how there was no such thing as a second coming, but I found it in an old box of letters in my parents’ attic. I’d saved it this whole time. I didn’t want God or my Gram to know I didn’t believe. Dave andI have often talked of Daedelus, in Joyce, who refuses to kneel and pray at his dying mother’s side, and Mulligan (correct me, Dave, if I’m confusing everything) who says something like “if you don’t believe anyway, just kneel and pray, what the fuck d’you care?” “I don’t believe in you God, so how d’ya like that? (You heard me, right?)”
I think there’s some part of me that’s always believed that I would come back around to Christ, would be a true believer, would have that unshakable faith. I keep trying. I pray, I pray with my son, we take him to church, we send him to religious school. We believe in the foundation of faith, the foundation of Christian stories, of ritual. We want him to always have access to those things within himself. He might need them someday.
A thing Dave and I have always had in common is this moment in our respective lives where the life we thought we would have, the life we saw laid before us like words etched in stone, broke apart into millions of tiny irretrievable pieces. We’d each had a tether to our future, an unbroken line between the person we were, the person we are, and the person we will be. But there was this moment where the tether snapped. We could never become the person we thought we would be, and without that guideline to the future self, we didn’t know who we were in the present, either. When the dust settled, for each of us, we found ourselves face to face with each other, we found a hand hold, we found a safe corner beneath the collapsed stair well, a pocket of oxygen, and we breathed it together. We learned to need less air, how to share it, how to breathe one at a time. It was a shock to eventually venture out of our cave and realize the world was still spinning. People were still going about their lives. Civilization itself had not come to a halt. We scurried back into the darkness.
Sitting here in the light I try to grab onto faith. I feel a pinprick of light in my heart and try to transform my heart into light, to feel a pulsing of safety there. When I try to expand the tiny opening, it lets in too much, it lets in not just love, but pain, too, and I have to shut down the experiment. It’s a struggle. I pray: please fill my heart with so much love it blots out the fear. Maybe that’s greedy. Maybe the pinprick is what is really sustainable, but I want it all, I don’t want to doubt. But I do (want to).
Life is as terrifying as it is beautiful. The terror can be blotted out by the beauty itself, by gratitude for that beauty, also by work. The worldly obfuscations can work, too, but they are not lasting. When the questions and the doubts burn brighter than the love, show the shadows in sharper contrast, that’s when you have to remember what the love is about.
The love is a gift, and its existence is the only certainty. That’s what faith tells me.