Written on: September 8, 2017
What to write about in early September. Labor Day. Hurricanes and floods. Climate change and the Paris Accord — or not? Refugees. DACA’s “Dreamers.” Threats from North Korea. Terrorists everywhere. Racism, white supremacy, violence stemming from hate. Whatever we choose to focus on, our perspective is to be a perspective of faith. So what about faith?
Some years ago, I read the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner. It is a monumental faith-changer of a book and I remember being both consoled and shocked to agree with so much of what Rabbi Kushner wrote. I belong to a women’s religious community, i.e. I am a Catholic nun.
Not the same nun I was when I came to this community when I was 19, but still a nun, and happy that I found the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, a perfect “fit” for me for more than 50 years.
But we Grey Nuns came in all shapes and conditions and so did our faith and none of that is unchanging.
My faith was shaken when I read Kushner’s reflections but it was also expanded, deepened, I guess. Where some sisters (and some of you, no doubt) pray for intervention from God about every aspect of life – finding a parking place, having good weather for the picnic, being cured of cancer or restored to mobility after an accident — I pray to know that God is there, no matter what.
With Kushner, my faith tells me God is no more responsible for the death of those children in Houston’s flood than He/She is responsible for the fact that some towns, some streets, some houses were spared. What I believe is that God was there, is there — for all of it.
One of our residents where I work with survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking asked me how the flood in Houston squared with God’s rainbow promise in the Book of Genesis that he would,”never again allow the Earth to be flooded.” My response was inadequate, I am certain, and I probably said more than she needed to hear about the fact that those writers would not have known territory beyond their limited horizons or how humans sometimes make nature’s phenomena much worse (by putting down asphalt where a marsh is needed, for example, or by building homes in a flood plain).
What she wanted to know is if God made the flood happen, if God could have kept that from happening, if the God of our day is as powerful as the God of Noah’s time.
I was careful not to try to answer. (Note that many scripture scholars, unlike movie producers, read the Noah story as figurative — not that there never was a flood, but rather that there are flood narratives in many ancient civilizations and ours is written, we believe, inspired by the Holy One, to teach us about sin and righteousness and saving grace).
Sunday morning I heard a reading from the Christian scriptures in which Jesus tells his followers that he will have to go to Jerusalem and suffer torture and be put to death. The disciples are, of course, horrified.
One of them, Peter, tells Jesus that this must not happen. Jesus emphatically corrects and assures Peter that somehow this has to happen. Many Christians hear this as “God’s will.” I believe, however, that what Jesus meant was that he could not stop preaching what he was preaching and that this would necessarily bring him into conflict with the authorities who would find a way to get rid of him.
This Jesus tells his followers to embrace suffering as an inevitable part of life (take up your cross) but to trust that God is there for us, and that somehow, like Jesus, we will be brought through the storm — “raised” by God, by life.
Of course, I am very good at being ambivalent. I do pray that my niece will be able to stay clean and sober forever and I do pray that refugees and immigrants will find welcome in American hearts. Even though I hedge a little about what I think God has the power to do, I believe that somehow prayers help — that they serve to bring us close to those for whom we pray and closer, too, to the God to whom we direct our prayers.
I just don’t want to blame God for awful things that happen or say to another niece that it was “God’s will” that her son died. No, it wasn’t. I believe God was there with Jimmy when he was dying and he is there with my niece and her husband while they grieve. I believe God is there in the flood waters with those who can never return to their homes and also with those who have lost loved ones. I believe God grieves with all those who grieve and that God is angry with all the hatred and violence human beings spread.
But, I don’t see God as all powerful. Is this blasphemy? Or, is it the evolution of faith in a person who believes that God is all love and everywhere longing for us to be all loving, too. A God of influence but not, perhaps, divine intervention.
I’m still praying about this.
What do you believe? How has your faith changed since you were young? How does it sustain you now?
Sister Eileen White, GNSH, is a member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart
This article is republished here with the permission of the Bucks County Courier Times. Sister Eileen is a frequent contributor and we are pleased to share her insight (and her insightful questions) with you here!
Sister Eileen White ministers at Dawn’s Place, a collaborative housing effort on the part of numerous religious congregations of both women and men from the Philadelphia area. Dawn’s Place is a safe shelter for those who have been victims of human trafficking and the sex trade.