Q: I have been practicing CP for over two years and have noticeably experienced positive change and what I consider a deepening of faith and openness to the work of the Holy Spirit.
My first son was born almost three years ago with cataracts and two other congenital problems. During the very difficult times when we discovered these issues I really did sense my faith and confidence in God grow despite the uncertainty that lay ahead. My second son was born six weeks ago, and also to our surprise, with cataracts. We also discovered that our sons’ condition is genetic and that there is a 50% chance of a new child being born with the same syndrome and there is a 50% of them inheriting the syndrome to their children. My wife and I and two sons have just returned from a three-week trip abroad (we live in Nicaragua) to have the cataracts removed. The three weeks have been very challenging both for my relationship with my wife and for my commitment to the daily CP practice and my relationship with God.
The surgery was a success and I am confident that the outlook for both boys is very good. Nevertheless, this time around I have experienced a crisis of faith.
I have at times doubted whether God actually cares what happens to us in the physical world. Whether it really is only about life in the “spirit” and that what happens physically and emotionally to us is irrelevant. Does God use these circumstances and situations to help us grow? Or is everything just perfect as it is and what I should try to do is just accept everything, every challenge, pain, frustration, etc.? I am having a hard time reconciling this with the notion of God as a loving father. I have enough conviction to believe that I am wrong about this, but I do have doubts and any words of wisdom and encouragement would be greatly appreciated.
A: I know your Christian faith is deep and a very important part of your life.
Thank God the surgery was a success; I pray for the boys to have a blessed recovery. I also pray for you and your wife as you support one another. With what you are going through - and the long range genetic implications - it is no wonder you are experiencing a crisis of faith. However, it seems to me it is your beliefs that are being shaken, not your faith.
Fr. Thomas speaks of this distinction between beliefs and our faith experiences. Beliefs are various sets of wisdom statements we have received from our church, society and family that we try to live our lives by. Faith experiences go deeper, and are the intuitive wisdom experiences that life teaches us everyday as we live out our commitments and responsibilities. A belief statement might be: “If there is a God, this should not happen to good people like us.” A faith statement might be: “There is a God. God did not cause this, but I know He is with us in all of it.”
One of the beautiful gifts of Christianity is that it is incarnational, which is celebrated especially during the season of Advent. I often reflect on the wisdom of this season as I listen to the Angelus bells ringing during the day, reminding us of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our lives. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it done unto me according to thy Word.” This was her mindset, her centering point, her compass in the storm. Then John, the beloved disciple, says, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwells among us.” Jesus took unto Himself everything that we go through - from the beginning of time - and promised to be in the midst of all of it. The gift of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel is the SEEING of everything in this larger context.
God actually cares what happens to us. Jesus’ own life verifies this. God used the circumstances and situations of His son's life to help Him grow and learn to do His Father’s will.
We believe that Jesus wanted us to know His presence. Thomas Keating said that Jesus felt so bad for the mess we were in because of the fall of Adam and Eve that He jumps right into the midst of things to be present to us every step of the way. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” I know this with all my heart.
Hopefully, these words can be a comfort to you and your loved ones as you consent to God's presence and action each moment of each day through your fidelity to Centering Prayer … always aware of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In my prayers -