By Jadan Anderson, Morse ’22. Jadan is currently undeclared.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’” – Psalm 118:1-3
There are two women at Yale I very much admire. The first one, whom I’ll refer to as Lucy, arrived on campus just a few months ago. She’s a refreshing presence, one that epitomizes patience, gentleness, and peace that surpasses even the worst of midterm seasons. The second one I’ll refer to as Eileen. She is not the opposite of Lucy, but an alternative. In what I admit is a highly romanticized view, Eileen embodies a tortured, ambiguously Christian scholar. She is weathered by the tensions that arise from the ever-hopeful, God-is-good-all-the-time-and-all-the-time-God-is-good tenets of her lifelong Christian faith and the evil that exists and operates in the world, in her personal life and even, as she has been told since Sunday school, in herself.
What I admire most about Lucy is the way she unabashedly worships the Lord in song. Her hands are up high in the air. She sways and jumps and spins. Her eyes are tightly shut, and for a moment I am convinced that we are no longer listening to the same song. It’s like she’s seeing something I’m not seeing, hearing something I’m not hearing. For her, the universe is blocked out. Nothing in the world, and she knows a lot about the good and bad in it, matters. In this moment, she doesn’t care about a thing, not what is going on outside of the church walls or what she looks like or what she sounds like. She is wholly unbothered because she knows that God has met her in this chorus and will meet her again in the next one. Without a doubt she prays, in between the song transitions, that others, too, could experience the Father like she does.
The honesty Lucy exemplifies in her worship is the same for which I admire Eileen in her wrestling. Eileen sees and articulates injustice and corruption, with a keen ability to suss them out of the spaces that claim to actively fight against them. She has no interest in preserving her present way of thinking: what she is seeing, what she is hearing, should inform her thoughts, not the other way around. She runs about campus and the city doing her best to put light into dark places. Her heart loves the world and yearns with a holy desire to see it bettered. She has no time, energy, or want to put on airs of deep inner peace and contentment. And while she has known the Lord for most of her life—and, I am convinced, still loves Him—she angrily shakes her fist. Right now, she is frantically flitting back and forth between what she understands of the world and the promises she has understood God to have made. They seem incompatible. He seems unbelievable. And with many doubts she cries and wonders why God hasn’t made His presence known in all the places, public and personal, that most need Him.
These women represent two states in which I’ve lived through my walk thus far. Watching Lucy is almost like looking at a reflection of myself when I first fell for Christ, back when I woke up each day hell-bent on bringing Heaven down to Earth, when I actively sought ways to sneak Jesus’s name into casual conversation, when I jumped in the air and thanked God that a friend agreed to go to church with me. Eileen is at once a reminder of myself before Christ–a bit beaten down by circumstances in which she was raised that seemed at odds with the supposed goodwill of God for her life–and of myself whenever I learn about circumstances that are far worse than those of my childhood–an all-too-common occurrence. I was, and sometimes still am, dizzied by theological explanations for why my loving God must or chooses to allow evil’s presence. And at times, I fancied disbelief a far easier conviction to hold than belief in a good, or at least all-powerful, God.
I know that for a while I’ve been floating in between these two states. The things I am learning about the world are often disheartening, but disbelief is not an option in my reach. Christ has captured me, and I still love Him. I can see where Heaven touches Earth. I perceive small, quick moments of His presence and catch glimpses of His workings. But the novelty–what I can only irreverently describe as a sweet honeymoon phase–seems to have passed, and in place of what was once a roaring fire for God is a small but ever-burning flame. I usually go through the day content. I am easily grateful for the smallest things. But I don’t exactly jump for joy like I did before. And the dull ache accompanying that fact intensifies when I speak with Lucy who, though her walk has been life long, shares her experiences as if they were all brand new. When that happens, I want to shut my eyes to everything and get back to the days when I worshiped like Lucy does. But then I don’t, because that self (though I’m sure Lucy does) never addressed the important questions that Eileen and I do now. And I am once again stuck in between wanting a blind faith and wanting to be released to skepticism.
God, through a few conversations about quiet and charismatic worship, about seeing and believing, about settled faith and disenchantment, met me again. I will spare the details–though if you ask me about them, I’ll tell you–but the bottom line is that this Thanksgiving I have been moved to be thankful for my faith, which on any normal day feels just a little bit above lukewarm. I could and should pray for more, sure. I think we all should continue to pray for visceral joy of our salvation, pray to properly feel the gravity of the great love let on by the death of Jesus Christ, pray for patience as we await the full merge of Heaven and Earth. But, though I am not jumping out of the joy of my salvation, I can still see its beauty. I can still remember it. I hold fast to it, and I know He holds fast to me. He has blessed me with a small, weary yet persistent hope, one that anticipates leaving this gray, slightly-above-lukewarm state of faith for a blinded faith unblinded, a questioning faith satisfied, a state I haven’t known but in which I’m sure Lucy and others like her live. And until then, that hope, however small, is something to be thankful for.
“Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” – Psalm 118:4-5