For 6 years now, I have been writing this blog, ofseriousthoughts. For the first 5 years I wrote twice a month. In my 6thyear I reduced it to once a month as I’m now working on another ‘work of serious fiction’. The response I’ve gotten to my blog is rewarding so I continue. Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever shared a chapter of my earlier fiction book in my blog. I hadn’t; and thought that was a good idea so I do that now.
The Stations is ‘serious fiction’, leaning heavily on psychology, philosophy, and theology. It is the spiritual journey of an artist commissioned to create Stations of the Cross, but encounters resistance from the conservative wing of the Catholic Church when he introduces contemporary concepts. He ultimately loses the commission yet continues the work. This excerpt is from chapter 18. The artist is feeling threatened and meets with his spiritual advisor, Mother Abara, who has asked him to share a writing from his journal:
“My writing is about faith and the conflict I feel. How can I be so sure about my Stations and yet so uncertain about God? Is there dishonesty in that? Do I actually lack faith?”
“But you have captured faith so solidly in your stations.”
“Jesus is the God-man, that’s the easy part. Beyond his form is the mystery of God. Our theology says a personal God.”
The nun only nodded and waited for him to continue.
The artist reached for his journal. “This is an entry I made while working on the theme of acceptance. I had struggled for days while nothing satisfied me; --then suddenly it was fully apparent what should be in this station. I wrote this after finishing my initial sketches.”
He opened to the marked page and read, “I feel grateful when such ideas present themselves. As I’ve often said, I don’t know who or what God is—surely not Santa Clause in the sky, handing out gifts to good little boys and girls—but somehow, in a way beyond my capacity to comprehend, there is a something which is the source from which Life, Truth, Beauty, Justice, and Creativity arise. And I am inexpressibly grateful when I receive a measure of those goodnesses. I know they are coming through me; I am not the source; I am the channel. I am sure of that fact. I am not the source for I am too limited, I am a means of expression…life, truth, creative ideas come through me and I am moved to give praise to the unknown source. Thank you, Source of my inspiration.” He closed the journal and looked up.
Mother Abara seemed to be savoring the words, “How would you explain to someone,--say an atheist—what you mean by being the means, not the source?”
The artist turned the question in his mind. “I don’t think I could explain it to an atheist’s satisfaction. Do I even understand this? No, this is where I get tangled in confusion. There is a source of Truth outside myself that uses me to express understanding. I can only encounter it; I can’t invent it. So, I have faith that it exists, yet what is that source? To call it God brings up narrowly defined images that I can’t accept. What I find is that I am connected to a source of the idea, the inspiration, not a ‘personal’ God.”
“Perhaps that is God, you just don’t recognize it. If your belief were free of doubt you wouldn’t need faith any more, you’d have knowledge.”
He thoughtfully considered her comment and probed deeper into his own soul. “I constantly struggle with this belief/doubt puzzle. I have faith, yet it’s not unquestioning or total. At times I’m even sure there isn’t a God. Often when I’m experiencing the conflict, I find that, instead of faith, I turn to reason. I believe in God because nothing else makes sense . . . I can’t create truth or beauty. I can only participate in it. Only if ‘my truth’ fits Truth, or ‘my beauty’ fits Beauty will it be recognized or accepted. …
There is a knowing within people that lets them recognize when a singular expression had entered upon the infinite, and so that expression is treasured. Some charlatan may temporarily deceive but to endure, the expression must participate in greater being beyond the narrow limits of the person doing the expressing. And so, we are back to my ‘reasoned faith’ that says there is something beyond what I personally can know or explain.”
“Do you want to name the ‘something’?”
“Yes and no. Within myself I feel this is the unknown source of my life quest, my God—yet to say ‘God’ is to call up images that confuse my thinking with outmoded ideas. Yes, I want to call it by name, I think it is God; but no, I don’t want to call it ‘God’ and get trapped in some theological box. I can only refer to it as a ‘something’ which I believe to be more real than this reality I live.”
The nun let the artist’s words recede before speaking. “The something is beyond specific naming because it is beyond human comprehension—but traditionally it is called God, or Allah, or The Tao, or the Great Spirit. It is alright to leave it as ‘something’. If we would only stop arguing over what the something should be called, we might remember that ancient Hebrew tradition cautioned against naming God. In answer to his question ‘Who are you?’ Moses was told ‘I am Who am.’” As the nun was speaking, she reached for her Bible.
The artist continued the thought, “I think you are saying that when we remember to affirm an unknown God, we will re-discover humility . . . and learn to say “Thank You” instead of insisting we alone have THE answer—or threatening those whose call was different from our own.”
The nun only nodded, encouraging him to continue. “I feel such urgency to convey the need to see creation differently than we have seen it thus far. We’ve used life instead of realizing we’re participants in something beyond our reckoning. It’s all in the story of Jesus, but we miss the point. We are bound together as life flows through us.”
“’I am’ means ‘to be’ or ‘life’” said the nun as she leafed through the Bible and quickly found what she was looking for. “EXODUS 3:13, ‘But’ said Moses to God, ‘when I go to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, if they ask me ‘What is his name’ What am I to tell them?’ God replied, ‘I am who am’. Then he added ‘This is what you shall tell the Israelites ‘I AM sent me to you.’.”
Closing the page, she looked up and said with a smile, “You are in good company when you exert caution in giving a name to your ‘something’. Your stations say that God is Life. Hold tightly to your urgency! No matter how uncomfortable it becomes around the complacent clergy who want you to simply repeat what others have already said.”
The Stations by B. Sabonis-Chafee
Available at Amazon