Doubt and Connections
“I am not more faithful than when I was twenty.
I am filled with the same doubts and fears.
It’s just that now I live
Into my faith more than my doubts
And pray to walk with a heart wide open;
To live into the hope that love is eternal,
And allow the course of the river to carry me,
Instead of trying to swim upstream.”
Becca Stevens, Letters from the Farm, A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life 2015
Becca Stevens, the Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt University’s St. Augustine Chapel, and the founder of Thistle Farm writes about distractions on the spiritual path such as doubt and the bright lights and distraction of the ego. She believes love to be the ultimate vehicle for social change and healing following a path of simplicity, humility, and forgiveness.
"The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty," is often attributed to Anne Lamott but can be traced to William Temple, the former Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940’s. It also is related to writings of Paul Tillich where he said, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” Phillip Yancy has modified the quote to “the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear.”
Without the gift of doubt there cannot be the presence of faith. It is only when we are not quite certain and can give into the mystery of faith that we are able to trust in a power greater than ourselves.
I know I have used this phrase about doubt and faith and certainty hundreds of times in spiritual direction. I first heard it from the then dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Alan Jones, at a Spiritual Formation Summit led by Trinity Wall Street at Kanuga Conference Center the spring after the death of a dear friend, Jane Murray. Jane had made reservations for her husband, Pat, and my husband and myself at this conference in 2001 the summer before her untimely death. Jane was passionate about adult formation, and infected me with that love as well. I can still see her turning in our names almost immediately after the flyer about the conference came off the St. Margaret’s fax machine. We would not have gone if it had not been for Jane. Also at this summit at this lakeside conference center were Bishop Tutu, Phyllis Tickle, Thomas Keating, Barbara Crafton, Walter Wink, old friend from Arkansas, Stuart Hoke, and Susanne Epting, a deacon from Iowa that I already knew would write great things. It was an unbelievable conference, a gift from a friend who knew better than we that this event could change our lives to new directions. We went to honor Jane and in return learned more than imaginable. I still keep Jane’s picture by my desk as a reminder to thank her for coming into our lives. Another thank you to Jane from the conference is meeting Phyllis Tickle at her book signing and timidly asking with all the courage I could muster if she ever evaluated other author’s works. I could not believe it. On the spot she gave me her address and told me to send her my writing. This began a mentorship and friendship with Phyllis until she died in September of 2015.
So, this is one of a million ways God works in our life, through other people, living and dead, making connections that are all serendipity from South Africa to California to New York to Iowa to Tennessee to North Carolina to Arkansas. In that spring of 2002 at Kanuga I first learned how to mentor others on their spiritual journey from a spiritual icon. I began to learn that doubt is not a fearful thing. It is certainty that we all should be beware of. Today I remember how the love of a friend, Jane Murray, led me to waters by a lake in western North Carolina where I learned all this, and I now pass it on to you.