The 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi, once said that this is how faith moves in our lives: We live with a deep secret that sometimes we know, then not, and then know again.

New York columnist David Brooks says something quite similar. In his book, The Second Mountain, he shares how he is trying to live out both a Jewish and a Christian faith. For the most part, he says, it can work. After all, Jesus tried it. However, the hard question he is sometimes asked is: Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, believe that Jesus’ body was gone from the tomb three days after his crucifixion? His answer: “It comes and it goes. The border stalker in me is still strong.”

If most of us who profess ourselves as Christians were really honest, we would, I submit, give a similar answer to the question about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Do we believe it actually happened? It comes and it goes. Perhaps not intellectually, but existentially.

It’s one thing to profess intellectually that we believe in something, it’s another to actually give credence to that in our lives. Jesus himself makes that distinction in his parable about a man having two sons and asking them to go work in his field. The first son answers yes, but never goes. The second son says no but ends up going and doing the work. Thus, Jesus asks, which of the two is the real son?

Well, Brooks’ answer straddles the two, a border stalker. In truth, we are both sons, saying yes, then no, then yes again. John Shea, commenting on the ups and downs of Jesus’ first disciples and their vacillation between enthusiastic following and abandoning their faith dream, calls this a struggle (for them and for us) between divine invitation and human response,between great assurance and great vacillation.

And nowhere is this more evident in us than in how we vacillate vis-à-vis whether we truly believe in the central invitation of all within Christianity, that is, do we take the resurrection of Jesus seriously enough to actually redefine ourselves, redefine the meaning of life, and make it a prism through which we shape how we should be living? Do we believe strongly enough in the resurrection of Jesus to take radical, common sense-defying risks in our lives? If we truly believed Jesus was resurrected it would reshape our lives.

Most of us, I’m sure, are familiar with the famous lines from Julian of Norwich. Reflecting on what the resurrection of Jesus means for us, she says that, if it is true, if Jesus actually rose from the dead, if God actually brought a dead body out of a grave, then we have the absolute assurance (and the confidence that goes with that) to believe that In the end, all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of being will be well.

Her equation is right, if the resurrection actually happened; the rest follows, the ending to our story of and that of the world itself has already been written, and we have absolute assurance that it’s a happy ending.

But, do we believe it? For the majority of us, if we were as honest as David Brooks, our existential answer would, I believe, be the same as his: it comes and it goes. Granted, it can be humbling to admit that, but that admission can free us from denial, help us understand better some of the dynamics of faith, and point us towards where we need to be going in terms of an ongoing conversion.

Once at a religious conference, I heard this comment from one of the keynote speakers, a woman who, like Dorothy Day, had been working with the poor on the streets for many years. She shared words to this effect: I’m a Christian and I work on the streets with the poor. Ultimately, Jesus is my reason for doing this. But I can do this work for years and never mention Jesus’ name as I work because I believe God is mature enough that he doesn’t demand to be the center of our conscious attention all the time. You can guess that comment was met with some very mixed reactions.

But, at the end of the day, she’s right, and what she’s sharing isn’t an unhealthy straddling of anything, or even exactly Brooks’ or Rumi’s experience of how faith works in our existential lives. It comes and goes. What she’s sharing can help free us from some of the false guilt we feel when faith seems to have let go and we feel the earthy reality of our lives so tangibly and existentially that, for that moment, we seem not to know the secret of faith and appear to be vacillating in the face of a great assurance. It comes and it goes. Indeed. We live with a deep secret that sometimes we know, then not, and then know again.