Written on: July 4, 2013
The word faith always takes me back to an experience when I was without faith, or had lost my faith. It was the heady days following Vatican II when the Church had “opened the windows” and was breathing fresh air. I was in Atlanta where the diocese held conferences involving the laity and religious in learning and implementing the new directions from the Council. I was enthused and excited by the newness and openness to the joys and sorrows of the world. It was also the mid 60”s when everything was open to question, nothing taken for granted; a time when Thomas Altizer, a theologian at Emory University was declaring the “death of God.”
A friend challenged me on choosing a celibate lifestyle, questioning whether it was right “to leave your gift on the altar, unused. “ When I reflected on this, I thought that a loving God could not have deceived me in this way all these years. This led me to question whether there really was a God. The logic was probably faulty, but it was the way my mind went.
It was a terrifying question for me “Is there a God?” If the answer was “no”, I would have to change my whole life, start over on new premises with new values. A friend and mentor came to the area for a visit and I hoped to talk to her, but our schedules did not allow. Although she did not have time to see me privately, she could see that I was in deep pain. This was a time before I knew about spiritual direction or had the sense to seek counseling.
And so I waited. For about nine months, I waited. I went to my prayer room each day and sat and waited. I read the gospels, as I could believe in Jesus as a man, even if not God. I came to the realization that if I regained my faith and stayed in religious life I was to love and serve the poor.
All this time, I was teaching religion to children, without knowing whether it was true or not.
Gradually, a sense of God, of God being with me began to return. It was not a dramatic moment or sudden event. All I can say is that I knew that God was with me. I was filled with gratitude! The words of Psalm 117 became a sacred promise and bedrock for my faith: “God’s love is strong, His faithfulness is everlasting, and steadfast is His love.” Since that time, this belief has been a touchstone for me to reach back to in difficulties or confusion.
I realized then that I had to come to my own answer with God rather than be helped by other’s answers. My faith is a precious gift, not to be taken for granted. My faith is relational and reciprocal: God has faith in me and I have faith in God.
In recent years, the poem, The Avowal, by Denise Levertov has spoken to me about my desires for God:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
Sister Sheila Stone holds a degree in Clinical Psychology and presently is a caseworker and counselor at Catholic Charities in Buffalo, New York. She is an advocate for the Earth and Director of EarthHeart, a ministry of concern for ecology and spirituality. Sister Sheila has served several terms on the Leadership Council for the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.