Column: A Hide and Seek Faith; Living With Wonder and Doubt

By John H. Branson

This Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the observance of Holy Week and Easter, we of Christ Church Greenwich shared in a weekly study on the writing of Frederick Buechner.

Author of more than 30 books—essays, sermons, and novels—Buechner captured the imaginations of Christians and non-believers alike when first published in the 1970’s. Core to all his work is the idea that God is active, “speaking” to all the world through the events of our lives. These “words” and events are impossible to contain or re-create in language because they are “incarnate” words—words infused with the reality of God. These incarnate words are more often than not veiled, subtle, cryptic.

The Church has claimed to be uniquely suited as the keeper of these words as well as the traditions that have emerged through the millennia to contain them. The Church has regarded these words and experiences as coded or secret words requiring the expertise of persons versed in religion and theology to “interpret” them for others. Like our Protestant ancestors who protested this practice in the 16th and 17th centuries, Buechner suggests that these words are available to all persons, irrespective of any prior connectivity with God and the Church. Such words are of course available to those “inside” the church, but they are more potent and explosive for those for whom church, faith and God have been unimportant and extraneous in their lives.

Churches over the world in recent days have welcomed persons who have come to see and hear the extraordinary story of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. This story of redemption and resurrection is shaped upon the story of the first Passover of God, God’s saving the Chosen people. Both of these stories—the Passover of the Jews, and the redemption of believers and non-believers alike in the sacrifice of Jesus have been told in homes and churches. The hope and intent in the telling of these stories is that congregants and members, having heard these revolutionary and miraculous stories, to go “into the world” to live these stories in their everyday lives. By living them with hope, courage and faith, non-believers come to see and recognize in these believers a blessed and holy way of being and living in the world. We become witnesses through our deeds and actions—treating every person with kindness and generosity because of God’s first loving relationship with us.

Buechner would say that those who willing and able to examine their lives with curiosity, imagination and wonder—will be able to recognize, hear and know for themselves the incarnate (living) word of God. Buechner would say that the nature of God is to reveal Godself to all persons in the most every-day, common way, not just in the spectacular or miracle. We may awaken to God by that which is spectacular—the parting the sea or the resurrection of Jesus–but God, says Buechner, is in fact present in the most mundane, quotidian aspects of our lives for those able to see and hear God.   

Most inspiring in his writing is that there is no “monolithic” way in this living with imagination, wonder and hope. This is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and. The faithful, awake, curious person does not only know faith. Rather, says Buechner, one lives with faith AND doubt at the same time. Faith, he says, is constructed with doubt—both can exist in a person at the same time. One is not simply a believer OR a doubter; one can be both at the same time.

I heartily endorse the reading of Buechner to the wider, reading public. At the same time, how wonderful if all of us were to look more clearly (another snowstorm in April?) in the mysterious, wonderful, crazy ways of God in the world and our lives. What wonders and glories might we be missing if we but only see with eyes wide open, ears unstopped, minds not distracted and hearts on fire with our living, lively God!

John H. Branson is the interim rector at Christ Church Greenwich.