Proving the Path: And So We Begin
Resurrection is now a fact of our lives. It’s important for us to understand that this is the true nature of resurrection – not restoration to what once was, but moving forward into something we’ve never seen before. There’s no way for us anticipate what is coming next, or prepare for it. Our only option is to move ahead and find out.
Most of us can probably attest to the fact that life is full of on-the-job training experiences. We might read a parenting book, but we are still completely lost when someone places a newborn in our arms and expects us to take her home. We might have attended a great educational institution, but we still have no idea what it’s like to be in the real world, with real people, trying to make our way. We might have talked with hospice care, and know what to expect as a loved one passes, but our heart still breaks when they take their last breath. Some things you only know by doing them. Some paths you can only learn by walking.
Doubting Thomas: Why So Critical?
So why are we so hard on Thomas? This week we encounter the passage from John 20:19-31, in which we read the account of Jesus’ appearance after his resurrection. In the passage Jesus appears to all the disciples at once – everyone except Thomas. When Thomas arrives, the others tell him that they’ve seen Jesus, but Thomas responds with disbelief: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” When Jesus returns he gives Thomas the opportunity to touch his hands and side, but then seems to reprimand him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Of course we all know the virtues of blind faith. Blind faith tells us that we must believe in something before we can see it. But I think it’s important for us to remember that we do eventually see it. God reveals the truth to those of us with “eyes to see,” those of us who are training ourselves to look for miracles, to watch for God’s action in the world, to find evidence of God’s healing power in our lives. Somehow earlier in my life I got the impression that blind faith just stayed blind, that we had to live our lives in perpetuity never really “knowing” that God was around, just believing that God was.
Blind Faith: Getting Stuck at the Beginning
Now, though, I have begun to realize that while blind faith is a starting point, that’s all it is. it’s a place for us to begin our new life. Take a few steps forward into our blind faith and we are met – sooner or later – with evidence to support that faith. We move from just hearing about God from others, nurturing our faith based on these stories; to actually seeing God with our eyes, writing our own faith stories. Those of us who are serious about our faith path, those of us who truly want to move into the new story God is writing, will have to move past the blind faith stage and into the lived experiment of the ongoing path.
It’s interesting how many people actually seem to prefer living in blind faith. I’ve worked with folks doing spiritual healing and, even though it never fails that they experience some degree of relief and increased freedom, many of them seem to retreat from the work. It’s as if they’ve had a glimpse of the spiritual power that is available to them, a taste of the spiritual fruit which might come if they continue their work of discovery. But it intimidates or frightens or perhaps simply overwhelms them. They dive back into the “everyday” world in which their faith can be something believed in rather than something seen.
What Doubting Thomas Teaches Us About Belief
I don’t mean to be critical of people who want to stick with blind faith. I recognize that instinct in myself actually. It really is quite surprising and even unsettling to discover a new life opening up before us. We need time to stretch into it, to duck away from it for awhile, and then take another step forward. But, to my feeling, the important thing is that we keep on moving forward. We allow our experiences to keep expanding, our hearts to keep opening, to each new gift, each new challenge, that we meet.
It’s probably not a great surprise to anybody that I hold Thomas as a hero of my faith. I don’t actually believe Thomas suffered from disbelief; if he did, nothing he would have seen would have convinced him. I think Thomas was looking for something beyond belief. I think he was looking for the lived experience which would call him past the familiar into the unknown. This does not indicate to me that Thomas is a disciple of lesser faith, but perhaps a disciple with greater vision and commitment. In this passage it mentions that Thomas is known as “The Twin.” I read a commentary one time which suggested that this means he was a spiritual twin of Jesus – that he shared a special bond with Jesus different from others. If so, it makes sense that his need for connection to Jesus is different than the others, and that his commitment might be deeper.
Proving the Path: Encountering the Mystery
The wisest among us will tell us that, the longer we live, the more we discover that we are surrounded by mystery. That mystery extends even into our own lives. Just as we can’t know the new path that is opening before us, we don’t really know the path that is extending within us. We only discover who we are and what we are capable of by stepping outside our set identities and experiences, by accepting ourselves as the adventures we are.
Several years ago I was working with the scripture passage about the woman with the alabaster jar. I imagine that jar as beautiful but sealed tightly, with mystery inside it. The only way to really understand and appreciate the beauty of the ointment is to break open the jar – to set aside the beauty of what we have for the greater beauty that is hidden. In the scripture passage it describes the moment that she breaks open the jar and pours the ointment on Jesus’ feet, and how the smell of the ointment fills the entire room. The beauty once contained is released, and the world is changed.
Blind faith tells us that what is coming is something greater than we can imagine, something more beautiful than we’ve yet experienced. The purpose of faith, though, is not to help us dream about those unseen things, but to find them. What do we need to touch, to smell, to taste in order for our faith to come to life for us? Thomas needed to touch the wounds of Christ, and so he asked for it. Are we willing to do the same? We prove our faith by finding evidence of it; and we prove our path by walking it.
Until next time, blessings!