Has living through this pandemic diminished your faith?**
My faith is essential, it is fundamental to my equanimity and COVID-19 has changed nothing in that regard.
I shall always be grateful that, by God’s grace, I was born into a Christian home, to two devoted and loving parents who initiated me into a faith that I continue to embrace. I cannot, however, profess to unwavering devotion; in the face of many a tragedy there have been interludes when I’ve lost faith, when I’ve doubted. So, yes I was raised in the Christian faith, yes I have wavered but not through this pandemic. Not yet, anyway.
Attending Zion Wexford United Church in Scarborough whilst growing up – Sunday School, CGIT, singing in the junior choir and attending all the social events, I soaked up many numinous qualities of organized religion, and grew to appreciate the value of my church community.
I’ve always believed that my faith in God is enduring, indeed I repeat that to anyone who asks, but the unvarnished truth is that there have been times when I have strongly doubted.
The first such abdication, one I recall very clearly was on Tuesday, 11th June 1974, around nine in the morning. It happened at Toronto General Hospital, where I was a patient. In the room were my mum, dad and Dr. Kapsos (OBGYN) who had just broken the news that I had ovarian cancer and was unlikely to survive.
I remember there were minutes (hours) of numbness. Of disbelief. Of confusion. Of tears. Most of that morning is a blur, but that afternoon, alone again in my room – Mum and Dad had to return to work (However did they manage?) – I clearly remember thinking, This is despair. I feel sheer, soul-crushing despair.
In 1308, Dante Alighieri wrote his Divine Comedy which is indisputably one of the finest pieces of literature ever written. The epic saga tells the tale of a pilgrim’s (Dante) journey through the three worlds of death. Within the whole, are three cantiche (poems), titled “Inferno”, “Purgatorio” and “Paradis”. In each world, Dante has a different guide and, in the first world – “Inferno” – his guide is Virgil. In Virgil’s company, the pilgrim learns that feelings of despair are a sin against God and God’s word. Despair represents disavowal of God’s promises of hope, salvation and grace. Many theologians of different religions have preached countless sermons on the same topic.
So, don’t despair, then?
Yet, having had but a few hours to digest the import of my diagnosis, I was acknowledging my despair and, as in those rare moments of clarity one sometimes experiences, I knew that this moment, this event, this despair was the fulcrum of my faith, the exact juncture when things between God and me were about to get real.
Are you there God? It’s me, Pam.***
Lost in my world of terror and panic, of not knowing or understanding, how, I wondered, was it still possible to believe in, trust in God? Yet amid the misgivings, the mistrust, the suspicion, I did mutter a brief prayer.
During the passing years, I’ve spoken about despair to my friends in the clergy – two priests, a rabbi and loads of ministers (many of them my cousins) who all profess that despair proves merely that we’re human, not that we’ve abandoned faith. Upon learning of my cancer diagnosis and my resulting crisis of faith, my Uncle, who preached 60+ years in small towns dotted across the north of Scotland, gave me a simple litmus test for my faith: When you are ill, when you are frightened, when someone you love is ill, when someone you love is in danger – do you turn to God, do you offer a prayer? (Yes is always my answer).
Since that wretched June Tuesday forty-six years ago, there have been many occasions that have tested my faith:
- My dad’s sudden death: 22nd October 1982
- École Polytechnique massacre: 6th December 1989
- Columbine High School massacre: April 20, 1999
- The terrorist attacks on US soil: 11th September 2001
- My mum’s death: 16th February 2006
- Danzig Street Shootings: 16 July 2012
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, 14th February 2018
- The Danforth shootings: 22 July 2018
- Nova Scotia shootings: 18/19 April 2020
- On-going diabolism – FGM, human trafficking, racism.
Each and every one of these horrors engenders despair in my heart.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:
not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Very often when I overhear someone referring to Christians, it is with a cringe, as if we’re all Evangelicals, all ultra-conservative and Conservative. Me? I’m a leftie, even for a Liberal. My church has always been the United Church of Canada, nothing even remotely related to Evangelists who’ve always seemed to me to be way too serious in their pursuit of a more sanctimonious spirituality. The underlying message behind those cringes, though, is that Christian churches have a public relations predicament to unravel. By many, Christianity is seen as the purveyor of guilt and hypocrisy, not of forgiveness, grace and love which is the faith I know.
My religious comfort zone is, by most standards, quite narrow – the basic teachings of Jesus – to love God and love your neighbour and that there is nothing more important than this. That second one’s the difficult bit for most humans, the love of those who are not the same.
Such a love is hard, it puts up a fight, it’s demanding, sometimes unsuccessful and usually messy. Our world and our society have changed enormously in the past two thousand plus years, especially in the last fifty, but the meaning and value of the lessons taught by Jesus are as relevant today as in his time. I know I am one of the luckiest ones because I am able to find many of the answers I’m searching for in his parables and tales.
Now (at age sixty-three), my faith rests on a solid foundation built from questioning, analyzing and reasoning. My study and scrutiny have only served to strengthen my beliefs.
Has living through this pandemic diminished your faith? No, sir, not by one iota.
The Three Faces of St. James Anglican Church, Roseneath
Today, standing on an expanse of lawn, exactly where St. James church stood a mere sixteen months ago, the presence of hallowed peace and benediction were unmistakable. On Tuesday, 9th April 2019, fire violently and completely destroyed this 150+ year-old church at the hands of an ignorant arsonist. Today, though, there is only serenity.
‘Til next time, y’all…
*By faith alone.
**Dr. McEricher’s Arts & Letters writing prompt for August.
***Judy Blume, title of her 1970 young adult book, Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.