How in the world?

Dear John,
I was a Christian for a long time, and then slowly, piece by piece, I was less of a Christian, I think, and now I’m not very much of one at all.  And I read your work, and sometimes I feel like maybe a god could actually exist after all, but I wouldn’t even begin to understand how to believe again. 
How, in the face of the things you’ve lived and felt and grappled with, do you continue to believe?
How in the world?

Dear How in the world,

Your question brought tears to my eyes, good tears, the kind that mean someone has just voiced something so very honest, so very human. Thank you for asking this. First off, please allow me to share these words from Rilke:

Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty…Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find these words.

That quote is from his slim volume Letters to a Young Poet. I heartily recommend it to you. I started with Rilke’s words because I want you to know there are days I don’t feel like much of a christian either, if at all. I guess what I’m saying is me too. And if it is any help at all, there are others too, many I visit with every week who share with me the same feelings you so bravely expressed.

Evidently there are some people who never doubt their faith, and who experience every day with Jesus as sweeter than the day before. Such people make me nervous. The longer I live, and the more I read those stories in the old Book, the more I’m convinced that being a christian or believing in God or keeping the faith or however you want to phrase it, is a daily rickety ride of summoning the guts to utter that phrase, which I’m sure you recall: Give us this day our daily bread. And although yes, we’re asking for literal bread, the deeper request is Please give us faith for the day. I believe that’s a bit, and maybe even a bunch, of what it means to be a christian – someone who wakes up shaky and asks for just enough to make it one more day. 

But you asked how do I keep on believing in this world? I get by with a little help from my friends (wink). I really do. There’s this thought in christian circles, one you may have heard, that goes something like: you can’t get in on someone else’s coattails, you’ve gotta have a faith of your own. That’s so dumb. It sounds so very heroic and muscular, and absolutely exhausts me. On days when my faith tank is empty, and it often is, I’ll read the poetry of William Matthews or the short stories of Andre Dubus, or I’ll listen to Copland or Kristofferson, or I’ll call a good friend or maybe my parents, or any number of things which lean in the direction of beauty (that’s important), and they may not make it all better, but they can make it a little better, and a little bit here and a little bit there can add up to enough to help me make it through the day and even the night, to help me keep believing that there is a grace that keeps this world, and that grace has to come from somewhere, or someone. Gathering up those bits gives me the courage to sit and do my best to write about whatever is true and honest and pure and lovely in this world.




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  1. Gwen Acres on November 24, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Read these words like I am starving. Thank you for the feast this morning!!

  2. Gwen Acres on November 24, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    The glowing house in the cold woods is a poem without words!
    Warms my heart every time I see it….

  3. Susie Finkbeiner on November 24, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    This soothes. Thanks, John.

  4. John Homan on November 24, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    I’m hesitant to add anything to this, because it’s just right as it is.

    That said, my own reason to continue believing in God when the world doesn’t seem to offer much proof is that I need to know that someone truly understands all that I am and yet still loves me. That’s too much to expect of a human, but not too much for Him. I know I could be wrong, but the comfort and love I receive from this belief is worth dying a fool.

  5. Cynthia Herron on November 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    I jumped over from someone’s Facebook status and so glad I did. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you.

  6. shelgeyer on November 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Thank you, both, you beautiful people.

  7. Jewels on November 24, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Oh, how I love this person. And your response. It settles me. Thank you, John

  8. Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk on November 24, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    “Gathering up those bits” seems to me to be more and more the definition of faith, the will to seek, the will to gather, the will to recognize and break these bits further and further into a feast of sorts for others, that’s faith for sure.

  9. Karissa Knox Sorrell on November 24, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    I absolutely love this question and letter! I find myself falling away from faith, and often what brings me back to some semblance of faith is poetry – not Scripture, not a devotional book, not a sermon – but poetry. (Especially Rilke’s, I might add!) The poets have a sense of faith that is organic and natural – very connected to the physical world – and sometimes that is a breath of fresh air when you’ve come from a religious environment of formulas and dogmas. Many thanks to both “How in the world” and you, John.

  10. jamjobryan on November 25, 2014 at 4:12 am

    hurray for tears, honesty and wrestling…and finding faith enough for the day. so beautifully said John.

  11. Diana Trautwein on November 25, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Oh my, YES! I could have said these words. Except of course, that I could only say something similar . . .and not nearly so beautifully. Thank you, John, and thank you, John’s real and honest reader.

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