“…I looked but I couldn’t see anything
through its dark-knit glare;
yet don’t we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it
lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light.”
-“Bone,” Mary Oliver
Both Faith and Doubt dwell within me, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I’ve found myself wandering both landscapes: climbing the arduous hills of Faith, confused and exhausted, my brow dusted with sweat, just about to quit when suddenly the mist clears. And I am privy, sometimes for a fleeting moment, sometimes for a long stretch of time, to the kind of view that makes me stagger. I see sunset fires raging atop the purple torches of mountain peaks, or I see the inside of a volcano’s crater, striped white and black and red and smoking like a great dragon curled beneath my feet. Or I see a sunrise fist gripping the spire of a skyscraper as if to remind it who’s really in control. Or maybe I simply meet another traveler along the path, someone who has taken a break from the whirling busyness of the everyday to speak to me about the things that matter.
But I’ve found myself also in Doubt, a deceptively similar landscape. Doubt houses the same roaring oceans as Faith, hurdling toward me with foaming mouths open wide, the same torrential rains and malevolent winds, battering me this way and that. Sometimes it’s hard to know where one land ends and the other begins; the fog rolls in and my vision is obscured.
But ultimately there is a convergence. The two collide at a point of no further passage, an abyss. The science of Doubt, the logical questions and corresponding answers, and the art of Faith, the hope and resounding tenets of truth, can get you no farther in the earthly realm. There is a limit to human understanding. We can rage and debate, pound our fists and advance our arguments, trek closer and closer to the answers, but the truth is there is not one soul on Earth who can understand this world in its entirety.
And that is the point at which the decision is to be made. If you choose Doubt, extrapolate it, decide there is no higher power and life is yours for the taking to do with it what you will, there is some freedom. If religion is the “opiate of the masses,” then you may also believe there is a relinquishing of some peace of mind in choosing Doubt in return for the harnessing of your own will and human strength. You gain control over your own pursuit of whatever it is you want to pursue and achieve. I’ve often thought of giving in to Doubt; it does seem the most persuasive at times.
But ultimately I keep coming back to Faith, and the reason is this: I see a glimmer of Something More in everything on earth, something too massive for Doubt to tackle…I sense my own weakness, my own utter confusion. And I feel – even in the midst of sorrow, even while seeing the pain that is in this world – an unshakable love, and there is no greater love than what was written about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the swarming multitudes of people who turned their backs on him.
I know I will continue to roam through Faith and Doubt, seeking my final home, but when I reach the breaking point – the point of no return – Faith is what will lead me there.