Last night, a group of people I'd mostly never met face-to-face humored me by showing up at my parents' home here in Springville, UT, to participate in what I had haphazardly called a "Gay Mormon Family Home Evening." Up until about an hour or so before people started showing up, I really wasn't quite sure what exactly we were going to do, or even if anybody would show up to eat the chips and veggies my dad and I had bought for the occasion.
I say people humored me, because I'm sure a number of folks showed up mainly to socialize (and not even necessarily with me!), and I insisted on starting and ending with a hymn and a prayer even though I knew some folks who showed up are not into that. And in between the socializing (which started around 7:30 p.m. and didn't end till 1:00 a.m.) we sat in a circle and took turns telling a little bit about ourselves, whatever we wanted to tell. And so the things people shared ranged from the mundane to the sublime, and there were stories of faith and doubt (and neither faith nor doubt), all intermingled. That, to me, was actually quite amazing.
The big happy surprise of the evening, for me, was the arrival of Kiley. I think she was actually the first one to RSVP on Facebook, so that was a big happy surprise from the moment she messaged me a few weeks ago to say she was really looking forward to it. I told her (only partly tongue-in-cheek) that I was amazed she was coming because I thought she was pissed off at me. And she said something to the effect that if she occasionally gave me that impression, it was only that the messages of faith on my blog hit too close to home for her. Which, if I had to summarize how I feel about her blog, would be very close to what I'd say about her. I understand the doubt thing, not just because I've been there, but because when I'm honest, I have to confess that the doubt is always sitting there, just at the threshold. Which is why it felt so good to actually see the real flesh and blood Kiley, and give her a great big hug, and to smile and see the smile on her face, and recognize that whatever we express of doubt or faith on our respective blogs, in the flesh we're something like a brother and a sister and much, much closer to each other than our words might make us out.
I recently received a confession of doubt from a close friend. He was weeping, because he felt like his faith and his life in the Church had been a great, big lie. He had confronted some uncomfortable truths about Church history that literally rocked his world, and he didn't see how faith was possible for him any more. I've never seen someone so utterly bereft and heartbroken. He wept and hugged me and trembled like a child.
And it occurred to me, as I was reading this recent post by Andrew, that people have this tendency to act as if the line between doubt and faith is this static boundary, which we are either on one side or the other of. When someone expresses doubt, if we've ever felt doubt, we act as if that person is where we once were. If someone expresses faith, and we no longer have faith, we act as if we were once "there," as if we've "been there, done that."
But there is no static boundary, there is no static realm or dominion of faith or doubt. Our lives are like a mountain road with a lot of twists and turns, valleys and vistas. And our faith is like that bend in the road just beyond an outcropping of rocks that lets us see miles all around us in the valley. We can sit for a while and enjoy the view. But when we move beyond that point (and move on we must, because our lives are a road we must keep walking), of course we lose the view we once had. Now we're on a stretch of trail where we can see nothing but steep walls hemming in our view, and a path that disappears after a few dozen meters. No vista any more. But it doesn't mean we didn't see what we saw earlier in the journey. It doesn't mean that previous vista was false. And if we stay on the journey, eventually we'll catch another vista again. And when we do -- when, once again, we can see the valley stretching out below us for miles away -- it's no longer the same vista we had before, but a completely new and different vista, one likely with a larger perspective than the earlier one. Even that perspective will eventually have to be abandoned if we want to keep growing.
So a normal, healthy, growing soul passes through faith and doubt, which are not so much opposed to one another as interconnected phases of the same journey; a journey which could not exist without both. When a person of faith wrestles with doubt, he's not "returning" to doubt, he's moving forward. We may wrestle with doubt at many phases of our lives, but doubt is never the same. It's always a different twist in the road. And faith reaffirmed and re-embraced is never the same faith. It's always a maturer faith, more refined by the doubts that preceded it.
Yes, Andrew, faith is relevant. But only so long as we don't define faith as the things we supposedly know -- the static, unchanging facts -- that make us moral beings (which is sort of how you've defined it in your essay). For me faith, in some profounder way is the journey, even when I'm passing through darkness and doubt. Because in those moments when my view is cut off, I've learned to keep walking, knowing that as long as I don't stop moving, I'll eventually see more clearly again.
Doubt represents the hard-won acquisition of indispensable truths. We should never jettison those truths, and so in a real sense, we never jettison those doubts. They just get incorporated into the larger understandings we acquire further up the path. That is why I ultimately can't bring myself to argue with someone who doubts, to try to convince them that they are wrong. At some profound level, I do not believe they are wrong, and to persuade them they were wrong would be to send them in the wrong direction, backwards instead of forwards.
That's why I was so happy last night. I loved that feeling in the room last night, as I sat there conversing till early this morning, that sense that wherever we are, we're all in this together.