On my kitchen counter stands a four-by-four-inch mahogany-stained wooden frame suspended in a wrought iron stand. Both the wood and glass are speckled faintly with water spots and dust. Ornamenting the frame's face, a small pressed wild flower has been lacquered on with clear nail polish. The tiny petals are almost as faint as the water marks against the backdrop of wood. Behind the glass, the frame encloses a handwritten inscription transcribed more than a dozen years ago, the immaculate lyric script undeniably my friend Amanda's.
She made the framed quotation as a present for me in college in a season when I began to feel my first real doubts about my Christian faith. In a wave—no a sea—of fear and insecurity, I realized I couldn't just believe that God, if he existed, loved me. It made no sense. My mind spun trying to fathom how a God could love everyone—so many billions upon billions of us—and even more how he could truly love any one of us, for example, myself—as incredibly unlovable as I found myself to be.
The words in the frame spoke to me in that place. They are words attributed to Madeline L'Engle, but I believe L'Engle got them from Miguel de Unamum (see Treatise on Love of God, p. 15). Here they are, arranged to match as closely as I can Amanda's poetic turning of them:
"They who believethey believe in God,but without passion in the heartwithout anguish of mind,without uncertainty,without doubt,and even at timeswithout despair,believe only in the idea of God,and not in God himself."
God himself. He is a self, a person, not a proposition. My mind still whirls when I try to understand how he could possibly exist, possibly love, possibly act in my life. I get dizzy like Annie Dillard at the vastness of the universe and want to lie down on something low and solid, to feel some containment, something palpably sure and secure.
I don't think the fear and doubt will ever go away in this lifetime, but I have more or less learned to sit with them. I let them wash over me as they come and go like waves, knowing that I do not sit with them alone. The same one who sits with me once stood suspended faint against the wood, against the dark. On him my hands are clasped like the dead waiting for resurrection. He is my only light.