Meditating on Faith and Doubt

When I miscarried the first time, it was in the liturgical season of Advent and Christmas. At first, the ritual lighting of the advent candle each week carried special meaning, seeming to correspond beautifully with where I was in my journey. The first week the candle symbolizes hope, as I began to hope that we might have a child at last. Then preparation as Arthur and I saw the heartbeat for the first time and began to prepare our lives to welcome a baby. Finally, the third week was the candle of joy. Arthur and I had seen the heartbeat on the ultrasound for the second time, and our hearts were practically bursting with joy and thankfulness.

The next day I found out that my pregnancy was over.

I couldn’t even face going to church on the fourth and final Sunday of Advent and facing the grotesque mockery the Christmas season and promise had become for me. Hope? Joy? A virgin conceiving, a barren woman giving birth in her old age? No, not for me. Still empty. Still barren.

I remember thinking at the time that my mood was more suited for the somber season of Lent. I was wrong. Lent is, yes, a sober season for the church in which the mortality, frailty, and failings of humankind are examined. It is, however, also a season of reflection, of service, of discipline. The problem is, reflection doesn’t work out so well when the last thing you want to do is examine closely just exactly how pissed off you are with God. Discipline is all but impossible when you are struggling to achieve merely functional.

The second ectopic miscarriage happened shortly after Easter, which, given the focus of resurrection and new life around that particular church holiday just seemed cruel.

Without getting into great detail – of the sort that would require not one, but several posts – faith has never come easily to me. As a teenager and young adult, I tried really hard to fit myself into what would be termed a typical ‘evangelical’ Christian framework. This turned out to be a huge mistake. The fact is, I’m a feminist, LGBTQ rights supporter who grew up in an interfaith household, taught to respect religions other than Christianity with two parents in STEM fields and a strong belief that science and religion are not incompatible. To say I didn’t fit in would be a bit of an understatement, but I tried, ignoring or attempting to cut off the bits and pieces that didn’t fit. It was, predictably, a disaster.

As I grew into myself as an adult and began to shed the evangelicalism, I went through a few years of what I’d now term a kind of agnosticism. Oh, sure, I went to church. I said my prayers. It was strange. I couldn’t connect to any of it, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave either.

Little by little, though, my faith grew in a different way than I’d ever imagined. It was as though I’d uprooted a huge flowerbed that I’d carefully tended and nurtured, then bleakly stared through the seasons at its emptiness only to finally walk outside one day and find a bunch of wildflowers blooming in a different corner of the yard. It definitely wasn’t the faith I’d cultivated through high school and much of college, but it was there.

This discovery, however, has not left me immune to periods of uncertainty and doubt, and infertility with its attendant wreckage tends to trigger some of these times. I’ve found myself in the midst of another lately.

Trying to read something super devotional in the middle of one of these moments, is, strangely enough, generally counterproductive for me. So I usually fall back on the quiet, repetitive, memorized prayers I’ve known my whole life. The repetition is soothing, and gradually the mindlessness becomes mindful as I find myself calmed by the familiarity, able to be fully present in the prayer. Sometimes I work on icons while saying my prayers, the brushstrokes each a prayer, the physical motion bringing my mind into place.

This time, even that wasn’t working for me.

Instead of trying to speak, I finally pulled out a poor, bronze copy that I picked up at a yard sale of Michaelangelo’s Pieta. If you aren’t familiar with the work, it’s a marble sculpture of Mary cradling Christ’s body after the crucifixion. I first saw a picture of it when I was a teenager studying art and I’ve loved it ever since. There is something beautiful, sad, and evocative about it that has spoken to me for years.

I sat, staring at the statue for a while, not really thinking, just looking. In the sculpture, of course, one can read all kinds of greater, metaphysical meanings, but at that moment, what it depicted to me was simply a mother grieving. A woman cradling her beloved child, holding a grown man’s body as tenderly and gently as she did when he was an infant. A woman who knew what it meant to suffer terrible loss.

That was something I could relate to.

It doesn’t mean that I’ve got the answers. It doesn’t mean that I’m okay or fixed or healed. It does mean that for a moment, the mists that surround and sometimes shroud faith for me pulled back and I could see just a flicker of light somewhere in the distance. And for today, that’s enough.

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