Rarely do faith, hope, and love come to us pure. Instead, like life itself, they come with mess and doubt, raising huge questions. Living a human life is not a simple business, especially if one attempts to do this beyond simple instinct. To try to believe in something beyond sight and understanding, to try to place one’s trust in something beyond what one can secure, and to try to love non-manipulatively, not infrequently raises more questions than it answers.
Not to be haunted by doubt, ambiguity, and temptation is to close oneself off from deep thought and feeling. To think and to feel is to be open to many things, darkness as well as light, hatred as well as love, despair as much as hope.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the great philosopher of phenomenology, based an entire philosophy on the dictum: Ambiguity is the fundamental fact within experience. That’s the philosopher’s way of saying that it’s not simple out there, that our heads and hearts are full of too many things, and that life is mostly about sorting things out.
And sorting things out is seldom easy. Many voices inside of us and around us beckon with their own truth – instinctual truth, higher truth, head truth, heart truth, Christian truth, yuppie truth, economic truth, spiritual truth – what is truth? Which voice speaks truth when so many voices vie with each other? We are called in every direction.
Deep inside us the call is to be a saint, to believe that meaning and happiness lie in generosity and self-forgetfulness; yet other voices, also deep inside us, demand other things, they would have us experience every sensation of the sinner, securing things for ourselves, building a name and a nest.
Which of these voices speaks truth? Does the truth lie in gratitude? Bitterness? Trust? Paranoia? The voices contradict each other and yet each holds its own promise of life, rest, realism, meaning. Small wonder that living can become a tiring enterprize!
So life has its questions…As we struggle to love each other, what is real?
Is the distance between us expanding or is it shrinking?
Are we touching each other’s neuroses, or depth?
Are we falling ever more into despair, or is it love?
Do we say the same words too often, or not often enough?
Are we bonded to each other by neurotic pain giving, or by painful life-giving?
In our obsessions are we bewailing a universal inconsummation, or are we filling in what is lacking in the suffering of Christ?
In our often frayed emotions are we tasting hell, or are we experiencing birth pangs?
Do our frustrations in love unleash our deepest angers, or do they cauterize our worst sins?
Does love itself demand more distance from each other, or does it need more mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?
Does passion turn love into idolatry, or into holy icon?
Is the pain of non-requited love the pain of hell or is it the pain of purgatory, which feels like hell when heaven cannot be touched?
Questions, love’s questions, questions which pose other questions of faith and hope:
Can Christ be believed?
Does dying produce new life?
Does purgatory turn into heaven?
Can what doesn’t seem to be real be, in the end, the most real?
Can spirit really triumph over instinct, heart over groin?
Can hope find the infinitely small gap through which the future can break into our lives in a new and marvelous way?
Can tombs be opened – and reopened – and reopened?
Do we really have 70 x 7 x 7 chances?
Will the smell of fresh fish invariably greet us after a night of emptiness?
Can our wounds really turn into sure proofs of the resurrection, silencing our doubts as they silenced Thomas?
Can, when all the emotions, angers, obsessions, jealousies, insecurities, and immaturities die down, love really last?
Can the ideal really take on flesh?
In the end, that is really the only question – and how we answer it will fundamentally fashion or distort us as human beings.