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A student asked to talk to me after class recently. “I’m not sure I buy it.” “Buy what?” I asked. “Christianity. I’m not sure I believe the stories. They don’t make much sense. I don’t go to church; I just can’t believe this stuff it true.” Awkward silence.
After a semester of professing, reading, discussing, arguing, storytelling…there it was—doubt. So why was I relieved?
I wonder if we need to add a candle to the advent wreath—a candle for doubt. It seems to be an important part of the Christmas story—Israel waiting, Zechariah refusing to believe, Mary frightened, two-year olds slaughtered… So much of what we do liturgically hints at it—the dark minor tune of “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, the reading of the prophets, the jaded view of exile. Yet, the Christmas season doesn’t let us name it, even though we encounter the darkness of exile in the senseless violence all around us—the Paris attacks, the Christmas party massacre, the everyday pain and suffering that makes life unbearable. Who hasn’t, under these circumstances, wondered if our hope is in vain? Yesterday I noticed a post on social media that questioned the whole “thoughts and prayers” response people instincually give to tragic events. I know I’m supposed to disagree, but honestly?—it was refreshing.
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; doubt is the ground from which faith grows. We need to nurture it, tend it, care for it, and make room for it as a part of our religious practice. Maybe along with faith formation we need a little doubt formation; advent seems like the perfect time to give it a try. The least we could do is light a candle to remember Zechariah’s disbelief and Mary’s fear.
So how did I respond to the student’s admission of doubt? I told him should be a theology major…