Periodically, someone suggests that my faith is a comfort to me, and I find myself explaining that, no, it isn’t. And I wonder why. I wonder whether I would feel any differently about anything that’s happened to me so far in this rather eventful life of mine had I experienced it from an angle of atheism — an outlook I last took as a kid. By the time I’d reached my teenage years, I believed in Someone. By the time I graduated high school, I was generically Christian. In my 20s, I felt bound for Catholicism, finally converting in the spring of 1990.
I am not sure, at any point, whether my faith gave me comfort. It gave me a way of seeing the world, maybe, a practiced mode of regarding both the good and the ill. The world was of God, and so was I; that I saw. I also saw that it, and I, were flawed, that everyone is, that all are capable of wreaking horror and beauty both, that tragedy can strike any little life at any time, and that none of us, no matter how closely we look, can ever understand why. Understanding why means understanding the mind of God, and we can’t understand that. We can’t even understand each other. If that were possible, I could crawl inside your brain case and peer outside, blinking at the suddenly altered perspective and suddenly changed light, seeing and thinking and feeling all that you see and think and feel.
But I can’t do that. I can try to do that, and the trying amounts to empathy; and the empathy amounts to love. Maybe that’s all we can manage, the love. Maybe that’s all we can know of God, too. Maybe that’s all we need to.
When I look out from my shortish vantage of an aging mother with whitish hair, I see everything I don’t and can’t possibly know. That’s what my faith gives me: a grasp on the vastness of God’s creation, not just the cosmos, with its order and forces and distant, starry masses, but everything betwixt and beyond it — something darker and less-knowable than even the dark matter and energy that fill most of the universe. From this great Unknown and Unseen comes the joy of loving and the grief of losing, for neither has logic in the known and seen. What I know most of all, in loving God, is the realization that I don’t know anything at all, really. But God does. That’s the essence of my faith, and it doesn’t make burying a loved one any easier. It doesn’t give me comfort. It gives me a posture of alertness, a reason to pay attention, a way to face the agonies and the ecstasies of life so I can move on to the next one. I see so little when I open my eyes. All I can know is that I can’t.