Certainty. It’s what I’ve been chasing. I’ve been surrounding myself with people of strong conviction.
Six months ago, at a church-sponsored rummage sale, I filled in a little card that said I was interested in Bible study. My actions did not make sense to me at the time. Soon, I was paired with a woman that I instantly liked. I enjoy her visits but the Bible study not so much. Try as I might I can not accept a literal view of scripture. I believe in evolution, that God is non-denominational and that collectively we’re all just guessing when it comes to “defining” God. As for the end times, I’m not concerned with the number of years between comings or whether or not God ends the suffering of the wicked with oblivion or eternal torment. These issues are angels dancing on pin heads. They aren’t relevant to me. I really don’t care. I have a really difficult time believing that a God would be all that interested in the punishment of the wicked. I want to believe that Love will trump all in the end. I don’t know what that means and I live with uncertainty. These are beliefs that I usually keep to myself. I’m a fish who desperately wants to be a bird. Wishing just can’t make it so. Certainty floats beyond my grasp.
This morning (in the shower, of course) I understood why I had signed up for that Bible study and why I have been gravitating toward people of faith. I want a piece of that pie. In an uncertain life, I want certainty and I’ve been trying to turn my soul inside out to get it. And yet, certainty is not mine to possess. I’ve been given uncertainty as a gift.
As a child, I wanted answers. I wanted a theology and a system of ethics to provide me with a set of rules. Good works, good intentions would result in the feeling that I was resting in the hands of God. That was my plan. The shock that my God is a random juggler leaves me dizzy and weak. I want answers, certainty, a clear road map to redemption, my redemption and the rest of the human race’s redemption. Uncertainty threatens my peace of mind. It leaves me full of doubt. It asks things of me that I am not willing to give. It calls me to a faith not built on proven methods or a clear interpretation of scripture. It calls me to believe in a God that I can never understand. It calls me to believe in uncertainty as the strongest basis of faith. As an adult, I am often still a child wanting the same sense of security. It does not come.
Last night, I dreamt I was on a city bus in an unknown city. I was busy chatting with the stranger beside me. A man got on the bus and we both recognized him as a recent local hero who was credited with the saving of several women’s lives. They had been lost on a nearby mountain top. We eagerly ask the local hero to tell us the story but when he did so the details kept changing. Just how he saved these women was unclear. The more we tried to pin him down, the more we began to doubt that he had done anything at all. Confusion filled me. I couldn’t remember why I was on this bus or where I wanted to get off. A pleasant bus ride was rapidly dissolving into a nightmare. No one else on the bus seemed to notice.
Occasionally, this capricious hero God gives me a reassuring tidbit. Once in the middle of the night during a time of great doubt in my life, I awoke from a deep sleep with the profound awareness that I was loved by God. It was such a vivid experience, I remember trying to convince myself that I was dreaming. I got up out of bed and stood on the floor waiting for my perception to change. It did not. I lay back down and firmly pinched the skin of my arm. I felt pain. After the reassurance of the pain, I rested in the knowledge and held on to it as I lay awake in the dark convinced in my body and soul that there was something beyond me, above me, within me, surrounding me whose very nature could only be described with a single word: Love.
By morning, this profound awareness was gone. It’s been over 20 years since this happened but the memory is still sharp and clear. My rational mind easily concedes that my experience could have been nothing more than the silly conniving of serotonin, dopamine and norepinepherin in the hallways of my brain. An exact blending of chemical brain soup could have induced such an experience. This seems closest to the truth and yet, the profundity of the experience, the timing of its occurrence all point to something beyond, something or some one who can use the odd bits and random chemicals of the human brain to grant a small puny human the occasional gift that makes life take on a depth and meaning that had been lacking.
Fast forward a number of years. I have flown to Texas intending to stay only the day with my sister-in-law who is pregnant and very sick. I don’t feel well. I take my sister-in-law to the doctor and she is admitted to the hospital. I return to her empty house to sleep. In the middle of the night, I wake up and begin throwing up. In the bathroom as I wash my face I look into the mirror and hear a voice in my head say: “You have a strangulated intestine. You need to take care of this.”
I shake my head. How can this be? “I’m not a doctor. I don’t really understand exactly what a strangulated intestine is. It can’t be.” I argue.
I push it out of my mind and continue to struggle with a mysterious illness for 4 or 5 more days. I end up in good hands of some very attractive Texan paramedics who transport me to an ER. The doctors are baffled. They don’t know what to do for me and I’m obviously quite ill.
Finally, the memory of the voice in my head pushes into my awareness once again. A new doc comes to check me and I mention to him a possibility, only hinting at the strangulated intestine theory. He takes the bait and I soon find myself undergoing emergency surgery for what the voice in my head told me was wrong. God or my subconscious? I’ll never know for sure.
Several more years pass in a life marked more by the feeling of God’s absence than His presence. In the early hours of the morning, I have a profound and vivid dream. It’s the end of the world, as I know it. I am frantically travelling over a harsh and violent landscape as I escape disasters that are taking the lives of most people on earth. Finally, I find the possibility of escape. A ship is about to leave the harbor and take its chances on the sea. I turn around to see my father. He is old and slow. He uses a cane to keep himself upright. I go back to help him. He tells me, “No, I’m not meant to get on that ship. I’ll be fine. You can not stay here. You must go and not look back. I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” I cry.
He smiles and hugs me and says, “You’re going to be ok and I’m going to be fine. . . much better than fine.”
A phone calls breaks into the dream. I already know what I’ll hear. I leave the bedroom and take the call in the living room. The sun isn’t up yet. My father has just died.
These personal experiences may have only been coincidences or products of faulty memories and wishful thinking. These moments in the presence of the unexplainable are few and far between. There are times when I question the folly of accepting them as proof of a power beyond, as proof that a God exists but I continue to believe in spite of my doubts. Absolute certainty lies just beyond my grasp. I believe in the dark.
In an increasingly uncertain life, I have struggled with this dark belief. I want reassurance. I want something profound. I want an unwavering feeling of conviction. I want my life and mind and soul to be so flooded with hope that uncertainty is banished forever. I hear others speak of their own style of belief, their own personal experience with God and life and I want what they have. I forget that we are all different. I forget that I am who I am, that I am a fish that wants to be a bird.
The sky tempts me. The birds can fly in that sky. It is a sky that can not sustain me. I need my ocean just as the birds need their sky. We fly. We swim in a world born of an eternal creation. Isn’t the concept of God great enough to hold us both? I do not know for certain. I know through uncertainty. It is what I have and what I offer back to all that lies beyond my understanding.