I Wonder: How awe and doubt go hand-in-hand
Author: Kate Schaber | www.kateschaberwrites.com | @kateschaber
I recently attended a conference geared towards Christians who would consider themselves skeptics, mystics, wanderers, misfits, and perhaps not-Christian, called Evolving Faith.
I have not kept it a secret that I have doubted and questioned my faith. More than the actual existence of God (though I've wondered about that too), I have re-thought my stances on practices of the Church and contemporary American Evangelical theology.
How old the earth is, what political party I should affiliate with, who is allowed in leadership and who isn't, what the Bible actually says and what it doesn't—I've picked each of these big questions up and turned them over in my hands: praying, inspecting, studying, rethinking.
In recent years, I've been among a small handful of people in my world who both hold on to faith and also thoroughly question the way things are. So to not be outnumbered and be in an environment where this worldview was not abnormal was incredibly cathartic and refreshing.
There were a lot of things that went as I expected that weekend: the jokes that were made, the tone of the messages spoken, the themes of the workshops, the language used. But during the last session of the conference, a liturgical communion service, I was surprised. It was beautiful, sacred, and so very human. Thousands lined up to be served the elements by the events speakers and special guests as music played.
As the lines dwindled, the singing continued. The crowd was diverse in their beliefs, but I was moved that so many still raised their hands, sang, and worshipped in their tradition. This was not done because they were expected to, and they were not holding back because the space we occupied was "progressive." I clearly cannot speak for everyone, but there was such sacred honesty in the air at that moment.
All weekend we had talked about the things that were no more in our faiths and found healing and camaraderie in this. However, something that was never diminished in any of our conversations was wonder. Namely, the mystery of the Spirit who still captivates and speaks and draws us in and who we cannot even begin to quantify or explain, still remained.
There in that room, the sacredness was not lessened or minimized for all of the doubt and questioning.
God is not afraid of our wandering or our wonder-ing, dark, or light. It is all the same to God. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:12,
"even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."
Where some may say that doubt is the death of wonder, I believe it is the genesis of it. To me, leaving the safety of surety for the frontier of the unknown is the very definition of wonder. It is saying, "Maybe there is more I do not yet understand. Maybe there is more out there to discover."
Surely a God who confounded the wise and wove a story through a scandalous bloodline, who was born a baby, messy and naked and crying like the rest of us, is just at home in the mystery as the surety; our questions as our concrete belief.
I've come to find myself at home here too. Not stuck in endless questions or cynicism, but wrapped up in the wonder of a God who is vaster in our curiosity than in our certainty.
You do not have to have it all figured out. In fact, without questioning, I do not believe wonder to be genuinely possible. The asking does not diminish the wonder. Children are known for their sense of wonder, and any parent can tell you that questions are never lacking in their presence. Wonder is a verb, it is something you do. It is not a passive lack of thought, but the active response of awe to curiosity.
Years ago, during a personal retreat, I sat outside and watched nature pass me by. Birds flitted past, herds of deer fed with their young, none of them living in houses or existing in what I would perceive to be a safe environment.
It struck me that God created them—in all their wildness and unpredictability—which means there must be something of God in their nature. Or, in the words of Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."
So, filled with awe over my wild, unsafe-but-good God, who has never been threatened by my mind or my wondering, these words overflowed from my heart to a page:
"Looking out at the mountains, I'm struck by how small they look.
Majestic, awe-inspiring, but small.
Like I could just pluck them right out of the skyline and put them on my wall, or in this book.
But as it is with mountains, and with you, God, the closer you get to them, the bigger they become.
The more I realize that I can't climb this in a day or contain it in a page.
The more I see that those tiny specks of snow are vast cliff faces and what look like small mountainside creases are really great caverns and mountains themselves.
I cannot begin to imagine all the wildlife that exists from the base to the summit; the flora and fauna that have lives and beauty, rich and extravagant, needing no permission from me to go about their existing.
I am only now just getting to know you, Father."