Read Part 1 of this Book Talk here.
One of Evans’ stories is about a trip to a Benedictine monastery. She starts off her trip talking with a monk and a visitor about her faith struggles, and neither of them understand her. She muses: “It’s funny how, after all those years attending youth events with light shows and bands, after all the contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian books, after all the updated technology and dynamic speakers and missional enterprises and relevant marketing strategies designed to make Christianity cool, all I wanted from the church when I was ready to give it up was a quiet sanctuary and some candles. All I wanted was a safe place to be.”
I completely understand that. I have longed to stop trying so hard, for the weight of trying to carry my faith seems unbearable at times. I have needed to just be at rest, to know that I can sit in the presence of God without feeling like I haven’t done enough. I have had the joy of sitting in my church in a moment of quiet before a service started, just looking around at the beautiful icons and simply dwelling in the silence. Sometimes moments like that touch you more than any service or song or homily.
At another point in the book, Evans talks about going to church after having skipped for several Sundays and people saying things like, “We haven’t seen you in a while!” She has a jarring response:
“You won’t know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home. ‘What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?’ And you won’t know how to explain why, in that moment when the whisper rose out of your mouth like Jesus from the grave, you felt more alive and awake and resurrected than you have in ages because at least it was out, at least it was said, at least it wasn’t buried in your chest anymore, clawing for freedom.”
As a faith-wrestler, I have found it difficult to know how to explain myself to non-doubters. Evans captures it here. There is this deep gnawing in your gut, this wondering if this thing you’ve built your life around is really true, and then on top of that there is this immense fear, like it would be terrible to actually voice these wonderings out loud. Honestly I have to admit that at times I have felt more encouraged by other doubters, agnostics, atheists, and friends who have let go of faith than by anyone else.
I think about what I would have said to someone like me twenty years ago. I would have said I am praying for you. I would have said God is truth, and you will find him again. I would have said God cares about you and He can meet all your needs. And I would have felt sick in my heart because someone I knew was turning away from God.
Perhaps that is what hurts the most: to know that I am separating from that old self, that I am disappointing who I used to be. I think my favorite line in the entire book is: “But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.” This process is a lonely one. You feel like you’re letting your friends down, your family down, your parents down, and most of all, you’re letting yourself down. You remember who you used to be, and how strong and unwavering her beliefs were, and you wonder how exactly she faded away. You wonder if people are shaking their heads over you when you are bawling in the bathroom on Sunday morning. You wonder how to do this when you are a mother of children who look to you for guidance, when you are a wife of a Dean of Spiritual Life for a Christian school, when you are a daughter of missionary parents.
Evans eventually finds church again, but I don’t think her spirit of doubt will ever completely leave. She ends her book with the sacrament of marriage (including some writings on Orthodoxy and marriage!) and I underlined this quote: “Marriage, like a meal of bread and wine, is just one more ordinary, everyday circumstance God transforms into an avenue through which to enter our lives.” I love this perspective. Our lives are, indeed ordinary: mundane, quiet, repetitive. But, as Evans says at the end of Searching for Sunday, “God surprises us by showing up in ordinary things: in bread, in wine, in water, in words, in sickness, in healing, in death, in a manger of hay, in a mother’s womb, in an empty tomb. Church isn’t some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground; God is here. Even here, in the dark, God is busy making all things new.”
I may question Adam and Eve. I may question Jericho. I may question my own guilt and perfection issues and whether or not they came from church. I may question the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and I may even wonder if God exists or not. But if He exists, I can believe this: He wants to renew all things, to make all things new and beloved and beautiful.
I rated Searching for Sunday 5 stars on Goodreads. Read my review here.
Thank you for the review of this book! I’ve been looking forward to reading it, as I’ve been through a similar process in the last year or so. Yes, the process of losing faith, or faith-wrestling is lonely!
I thankfully stumbled upon some writings of Orthodox priests, theologians, and lay people (yourself included), as I wrestled with various theological issues. It was like a line thrown to me as I felt myself drowning in doubt. I too, have enjoyed learning about the sacraments and ache to be in a church that practices them (I’m currently at a vineyard church). My husband is supportive, but not ready to become Orthodox, so I continue to wrestle, but in a new way.
Thanks you for your writings, about various aspects of Orthodox faith and practice. It has really helped me to hear it from your voice.
It’s great to know I’m not alone. The Orthodox Church is certainly beautiful. I struggle a bit with their approach to women and gender roles, but there is a lot of truth and beauty in their liturgy, sacraments, and feasts/liturgical calendar. Best of luck to you on your journey!