BY JESSICA PARK
My good friend went to Dharamsala this past December, and she brought back pictures of a few breathtaking things. One of these was a Buddhist prayer flag. The dirty, simple white cloth was weighed down with miniscule text in perfect rows, blocked into stanzas, and every time the wind blew through the black and white, this prayer for enlightenment was sounded again. I could not help but marvel at the ingenuity of the banner as a means of perpetual prayer.
Now, long after the creator of this flag has disappeared, the prayer still snaps with vitality in the high mountain wind. There are things that we as Christians pray about constantly, often redundantly, just as these monks pray consistently for enlightenment. Sometimes we pray about it—whatever it may be—for so long that we come to the conclusion that, perhaps, it wasn’t in “the plan.” Or we think, “Maybe we didn’t pray correctly.” Nevertheless, we continue. Like a favorite song that deteriorates into just notes and words over time, this prayer for it has also lost its passion. The benefit of having this inanimate object praying for us is that the attention span does not wane.
Because unlike the written word, humans change with revelation and circumstance. Over time, it becomes easy to forget the significance of our prayers. It’s easy to start off with a “Dear Lord, thank you for this day,” but do we always mean it? I don’t always mean it. Praying before meals? Sometimes I skip it, telling myself that God can see my thankfulness in the way I relish the food. And as for reading the Bible? Well, that can wait until after I’m done with my reading for school, and, since I usually fall asleep at my desk on my textbook, “after” doesn’t often happen. In this fashion of complacency, what was once a Modest Faith degenerates into the Bare Minimum. The range of excuses that define the state of Bare Minimum also brings into question whether this person’s Faith is still readily definable as something that resembles Faith. Thus the Bare Minimum regresses easily into Questionable Faith.
According to the author of Hebrews, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The word Faith within the idea of Questionable Faith, then, becomes a misnomer. Faith is, by nature, assured. At this point, has religion become merely a habit? Gone are joy in the Lord and certainty in His plan. For when passion decays, faith withers in sincerity’s absence. Here, we come to a crux.
Reaction Choice No. 1: That’s that. Let’s move on with our lives.
Reaction Choice No. 2: How the hell did I get here?
Choice No. 1 is the easy one. Choice No. 1 happens automatically even if this person doesn’t realize that he has reached the point of Questionable Faith. There is no extra work involved with this process. Choice No. 2 needs more analysis. It displays incredulity. Not only is the speaker surprised to find himself passionless, he is even more surprised to find himself faithless. Also embedded in the original question is: “How the hell do I get back?” or maybe even, “Can I get back?”
As humans, dare I say, we have an enormous capacity to deceive ourselves into believing whatever we want to believe. Although the struggle of man with himself usually carries negative connotations, it, like most things, is itself neither good nor bad, but rather can be swayed either way by its specific use. This idea of wrestling with Faith in a personal God is daunting but nonetheless doable. It requires only a desire, otherwise known as Hope, to do so. Thus, if the speaker takes Choice No. 2, the desire to get back can be used to carry him through the arduous process of returning to a Modest Faith and also be used to grow further.
It seems best to look at an example to explain how to utilize this struggle. Much like the Buddhist monks who create prayer flags as monuments of hope, the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins documented his faith through poetry. Towards the end of his life, he fell into a stage of Questionable Faith and wrote the Dark Sonnets. One of these sonnets, “Carrion Comfort,” ends with the following image: “I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.” The insertion of “my God!” portrays how he is able to jump-start the process of moving from simple hope to faith and love. His interjection marks the realization that through the act of wrestling with God; he still hopes to believe that God does exist; otherwise, he wouldn’t take the time.
In order to return to faith, the speaker of Choice No. 2 must conscientiously wrestle with his own mind and actively hope to believe with certainty in order to regain Faith and desire to enjoy the motions in order to rediscover the love of God.