Doubting Thomas

So recently I’ve found myself having a sincere affinity for the disciple St. Thomas or “doubting Thomas” as he’s more commonly referred to in Christian circles. He is always brought up as an example of what not to do in the spiritual life and gets sort of rebuked by Jesus who tells him “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Today possibly for the first time I’m really sympathizing with Thomas. I took a minute to imagine the larger context and what he might have been feeling. Jesus who he loved more than anything, who he had sacrificed everything to follow, had been tortured and killed in an agonizing and humiliating crucifixion.  And I imagine that as Jesus died so many of Thomas’ hopes and dreams died with Him.

Thomas must not only have been afraid, thinking of his own uncertain future, but also heartbroken and feeling like everything he’d ever worked for and wanted had come to naught. Then in the midst of this nothingness, of totally black despair, he hears that Jesus is alive. I imagine he must have had so many emotions. If it was true, what joy. If it was false, he’d have to go through the emotional rollercoaster all over again. Maybe he sensed that Jesus was asking him to have faith, but maybe there was a larger part of him, of his own will and own thoughts, that reminded him of the pain he’d just endured. Maybe he could hear in his interior that broken voice of bitterness and disappointment warning him that he needed to protect himself from further hurt because God hadn’t, look where he’d ended up by following God. I imagine it must have been from this place that he uttered his line recorded in the Bible, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

I imagine I would have done the same thing. I am struggling with the same thing now. With disappointments, with expectations that weren’t met and dreams which I felt God has called me to but which haven’t come true. The little voice in my soul telling me to keep moving forward in faith, hope and love is being drowned out by the emotional barrage of doubt, pain and an unwillingness to endure more which I imagine St. Thomas was also wrestling with.  And from that place I find myself wanting to say the same thing he said.

Thomas would find out a week later with the appearance of Jesus that God keeps His promises. He would see Jesus and touch his pierced hands and side. He would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah who had conquered death for all and ushered in the Kingdom of God.

In the midst of the battle of life do we know this also? Will we choose to cling to the words of Jesus? To hope in what we do not see but which we hope with all our hearts to see? If Jesus were to come back tomorrow would he find us living in that love and in that hope which we are called to live as His disciples?

These are dark times in which we live I won’t deny it. There are struggles that affect the world and struggles that affect our own individual spheres. I personally can’t promise Jesus that I can do this perfectly but I do promise to try and have faith in the dark, to believe without seeing and to live in the hope that one day like Thomas I too will see Jesus and at last come home to that place beyond the light which I have longed to see.

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A Christmas Carol

So as we are in the midst of the Christmas season (Christmas begins rather than ends on December 25th!) I wanted to share something I remembered recently before it was no longer topical. And since today is also, in fact, my birthday I’m thinking you can humor me.

The past few months have been really busy for me and things were moving at such a steady and uncompromising pace that I felt like I barely had time to get in the spirit of Christmas. Work especially had been really crazy. And I began to notice that the things that used to make me feel very full of Christmas spirit, like ornaments on the tree, setting up the Nativity, and even hearing the Advent scriptures weren’t really hitting me like they have in the past. I don’t know if I was simply going through the motions and not giving these things my full attention but I felt like something was missing interiorly in my preparations and I did not know what it was.

Fortunately, one night when I got home from work my family had been watching A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott, and I finished my dinner right around the time the ghost of Christmas future showed up and sat down to watch.

I saw a scene of pleading, of a man who realized the horrors of who he had been and what he had done (and not done) and who desperately wanted to try again. He begged to be given a second chance. What was the point of seeing the light, he reasoned, if he was not given the chance to put the new truths he had discovered into action?

It’s a great scene. He gets the second chance he asks for and as he realizes that he is not dead but alive the lines that come out of his mouth are amazing. He runs around the room and he doesn’t waste a second in sharing his joy, his gratitude, his love, and even his money with everyone he sees. When his old acquaintances see him they are amazed because they know they are seeing a thoroughly changed man.

At last, in watching this movie just days before Christmas, I knew what I had been missing. I finally caught the significance of the coming of Jesus that I had been trying to capture in my preparations for Christmas but which had been alluding me, and the sudden clarity hit me like a truck.

The birth of Jesus is significant because it is the beginning of salvation. It brings the love of God into the world which makes a conversion of heart possible. It means sincere repentance can be met with mercy, forgiveness, and second chances rather than what we deserve. But perhaps most of all it’s the love that makes us one, because when I saw Scrooge running around ready to live an entirely new life than the one he had been living I remembered my own conversion and the subsequent euphoria of realizing that it’s never too late for Love to prevail. And I confess, ironically, that the only thing that makes me happier than experiencing that Love for myself is watching others experience it too.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown

Today was a very interesting day at work because a woman came into my office and started preaching.

Unfortunately, it was not any religion that I found interesting. It was the religion of the new atheism, that secularism with a religious fervor, and believe me, this woman was on fire with the love of the world.

To give you proper context, she was discussing the previous evening’s Christmas party hosted by my office with a coworker of mine. She was so enthralled with the “good vibes” given off by the party and as part of her extremely self-important yet vague title (the corporate equivalent of a life coach) she was very passionately committed to the idea that people ought to give off good vibes and be given opportunities to work in places that give off good vibes. It was certainly positive support to the claim that in the absence of believing in absolute truth people instead opt for passionate commitment to whatever holds true for them. Which is why you just can’t judge, man.

All I can say to that attitude is girl please.

Because I’m not sure what party this woman went to last night, but the one I attended was not an inspiring show of universal love and brotherhood. Nor was the purpose of that party to relax and have fun together. It was Christmas themed networking, a show of solidarity in an office where most of us champwork remotely. It was quite the performance on a stage of glimmering (but tasteful) wealth, well-dressed bragging, and generous amounts of alcohol slipped into many a festive drink. It was essentially like a cocktail party before a wedding, except that there was a table with a delicious dinner spread. The company certainly outdid themselves by every worldly standard. It was a perfect fit for my boss and a perfect expression of what he envisions our company as representing. We’re good at what we do, we’re nice, we’re professional and yes there are probably good vibes all over the place.

Honestly I like my coworkers, I really do. They are good people and I am very blessed to be working with them. But everyone at that that party had themselves on their mind. It was that classic office networking experience
where people would say some jovial greeting and walk away half way through my scripted response to their greeting. Your surroundings may sparkle and make you feel important, but it’s shallow and superficial. Like a mirage in the desert that is appealing because it seems like it’s everything you want when in fact it is appealing because you are so thirsty. Thirsty for the real thing.

I know my inner Charlie Brown is coming out as I talk about how, amid a commercial Christmas, I can’t help but long for the true meaning of the season. But it was hard to hear these two grown women speaking, both so excited over an illusion. Because there is more to life than good vibes and networking and careers, life should be so much deeper.  Life should be about love, the type of love present at the Nativity in the humility, hope, charity, wonder, and joy shared by a family.

And being more “spiritual” than “religious” is almost a tragedy in my mind, a tragedy I saw unfold many times last night, because it detracts from the truth that God is love and subtly spreads the lie that it is possible to find the type of love and meaning your heart truly desires, with or without God as long as it “works for you.” It sounds well meaning and “open minded,” but that sort of talk is meant to keep you from finding what you seek by convincing you that you are fine where you are. It leaves you sitting in the mirage showing off how comfortable you’ve made yourself when the true oasis is right there waiting for you just beyond the edge of your comfort zone.

But since it is nearing Christmas I can’t help but retain my joy and my hope that love finds you this holiday season no matter who or where you are.

cb