“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” Paul Tillich (1)
I have entered a season of doubt. It happens sometimes. To me, doubt feels like a nagging rasp in my throat, or like wearing a windbreaker that’s a little damp and not quite thick enough to block the wind. My days look normal. I say this thing, do that thing, fall asleep and wake up again. I make lists and check them off. I send and receive e-mails and thank you cards. I walk in the woods, I bake bread, I laugh. There is nothing ostensibly wrong. Doubt isn’t flashy or bold. It is a quiet hum, a fly in an otherwise tranquil room.
To just be frank, I feel doubt around some of the most basic things I have certainty about. I know I am called to walk this path towards ordination as a Roman Catholic Priest. I know I am at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology because my ancestors opened doors for it to happen. I know the narrative of my body, and its intersecting stories of queerness, trauma-healing, psychic skill, earthen feminine rhythms, Goddess-and-Christ-bearing-ness, and burgeoning awareness of whiteness give me a unique position to actualize an aspect of Divine Love that I know my soul is here to embody.
But some days…some days I just don’t know what the blast-ended-skrewts I am doing.
Talking with my pastor recently, I realized that a major affect of this season of doubt is the discomfort of a nearly constant holding of tension. The tensions, some of them at least, are between my current reality—as a student, as an entrepreneur, as a healer-activist, as an auntie, sister, partner and friend, as a community member somewhat stretched between physical communities in Seattle and Tacoma, and virtual communities worldwide—and the vision I have that is calling me into the future—what is possible not just for my own life, but for my community and the world. The tension shows up in my body as the old tugging ache in my right hip and a newish twinge in my mid-back. It feels akin to how I imagine pregnancy: the in-between time of the now and the not yet. And again, in that tension, there is nothing ostensibly wrong.
Although, then there is also our world—and as my experience reinforces time and again what spiritual traditions worldwide attest to, what occurs at the micro level is an echo of what is occurring on the macro. I have watched and read and wept and done my inadequate best to respond over these past months of the anti-Muslim travel ban, the traumatic separation of children from their parents on the border, the murders and anniversaries of deaths of Anton Rose, Charleena Lyles, and this past month—Micheal Brown.
Speaking specifically about her experience as a woman of color, Ijeoma Oluo writes: “If I stopped to feel, really feel, the pain of the racism I encountered, I would start screaming and I would never ever stop.” (2) I bow deeply to what only she can know as a woman of color living in a racist world, and I ponder and sense at times the bigger reality to which she points. Barely concealed beneath the picket-fenced veneer of whiteness and American exceptionalism—even progressive American exceptionalism—is a churning ocean of pain. I know what I can sense, through my own body, is different. As a white person who has systematically benefited and had the privilege to numb from the collective traumas of colonialism and white-supremacy (3), my awareness of the pain of it surfaces in certain unsustained moments and seasons, when I catch a whiff, a glance, an ancestral memory or a sensory wave of the pain our world is in—pain I have experienced and caused. In these moments and seasons I do at times feel like I could scream and weep forever.
And yet more and more I sense, particularly as a white, cis-gender U.S. citizen, I have to take it in, hold the tension, breath it and be in it, be jarred, troubled, unsettled and uncertain, weep for as long as may be necessary—not just for myself, but for the world; not just for the world, but for my own self and soul.
This last month marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Micheal Brown in Ferguson Missouri, launching the #BlackLivesMatter movement to draw awareness and bring an end to police brutality against people of color. And still, just last year, police killed 1,129 citizens—more than were killed in combat, in airplanes, by mass shooters, or gangs; more than the number of black people lynched in the worst year of Jim Crow. Most of those 1,129 were suspects in nonviolent offenses or had committed no crime at all; most were people of color. (4)
Far more stark and deadly than my daily doubtful hum, there is, without looking too hard or far, a lot that is very wrong.
Can I engage in that reality and not be overwhelmed? Can I ground deeply enough to hold this tension and let it move through me? Can my body metabolize and heal with and from such wounds? Can our collective body, the earth? Can I hold in paradoxical tension that I am enough and whole in myself, and that the work is never finished in myself and in the world? Though my ancestors whisper their loving assurance each day, and though my wisest self knows that the answer is yes—there are murky moments still where what is known in my wisest self is not yet known by every part of me; where I just do not know what I cannot see with my two eyes and touch with my fingertips.
August 1st marked what in the Celtic calendar year was considered the first breath of fall: Lughnasa. Named by my ancestors for the Celtic god Lugh, Lughnasa was a celebration of abundance and thanksgiving, but one that also held in tension the doubt and uncertainty of all material existence. (5) Perhaps my ancestors would have asked a variation of the questions being stirred in me. Will all that we have planted come to fruition? Will it be enough to make it through winter? What will we lose to the fires or drought or floods or pests? And what then? Will what we hope and long and dream for come to pass? Having plenty was not taken for granted, counterweighted with awareness that time is an ever-flowing current and what we have is not fixed nor everlasting.
I had the opportunity to visit friends on August 2nd for my own Lughnasa quietude. These friends steward the Sublimity Sanctuary (6), a slip of tended wilderness on the Key Peninsula where they are living into a bold dream of collective healing through shared wisdom and closeness to the earth. I had the chance to laugh, play and share food with my friends, and also to walk, listen and be quiet with the land. It is time like this that tethers me to the bigger body of Mother Earth, so as to more skillfully hold the tensions of doubt and uncertainty that are inevitable in any journey of awakening, healing, and serving in our aching world.
It is in seasons like these that I also gratefully recall the work of Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich:
“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
Tillich skillfully put into words what my heart had known and felt, but that I could not quite articulate—that it is in doubt, in that gut-deep felt sense of separation from Source, in that not knowing for sure that this is all going to work out—in fact, where all evidence points quite to the contrary—that precipitates the last-ditch most unreasonable course of action: faith. Faith is an irrational risk, a yielding to that-which-is-more-than-what-I-percieve-myself-to-be, this vast exhalation into the unknown, whose end point is no point at all but the whole ocean of dark and loving possibility.
I am not there yet—despite my most enlightened reasoning and daily energetic clearings of doubt and uncertainty, I have felt myself still holding the tension, refusing to yield. Doubt lingers like cobwebs and there are many things that I do not know. Of course there's also been all the eclipses and the Goddess-knows how many planets in retrograde, so I know--as always--the energy moving through me is connected to things bigger than me. But the message I keep getting from my guides is this: even in doubt, proceed. It is in being myself that the greatest healing can happen, and this tension of doubt is simply what is alive for me. And so in that tension, like the drowsy disciples in the garden, I watch and pray and listen and carry on, practicing trusting—as in all things—that this season too shall pass, flowing back into that dark and loving ocean that is the Goddess weaving her creative threads, humming quietly, waiting for the time to clear the cobwebs and emerge.
And now as this goes to print, a week past having written the words above, I feel the softening, just around the edges of my doubt and hearing louder whispers from the leaves and the soil. All good things are coming to you, beloved one. We have never left your side.
In loving persistence,
1. Systematic Theology, Volume 2
2. Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want To Talk About Race
3. With gratitude, I owe much of my growing awareness of this to Tada Hozumi.
4. Harriot, Micheal, “Here’s How Many People Police Killed in 2017,” The Root, January 2, 2018, https://www.theroot.com/heres-how-many-people-police-killed-in-2017-1821706614.
6. Starhawk, Circle Round
5. Check out Sublimity Sanctuary here.