It’s a wintry evening in Minneapolis. I have just taken my seat on a train leaving the city for the far-flung suburbs where I live. Settling into my seat, I turn and look toward the window at my side. There I am greeted by the floating image on the night-darkened glass of a lovely young woman; in actuality, she is sitting across the aisle, but it’s the fusing of her ghostly visage on the murky glass that haunts me like a daydream. Were I a poet, I might have saved the moment’s enchantment in a sonnet.

This story is a metaphor of something we often forget – that so many things we say we believe are not unlike those ephemeral tracings upon glass. Did not the Apostle Paul remind us in writing to the Corinthian Christians that “now we see in a mirror dimly” – like mirrored tracings on glass? Choosing what to believe if wisdom prevails necessarily must partner with a reverent agnosticism, recognizing that belief is by its nature consequent of a partial seeing. It can be no other way, given that our vision of the infinite is reined by a finite seeing. Still, we are anxiously truth-seeking beings. We want to know who we are, our whence and our whither. To the Wholly Other we say in the words of the Psalmist: “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

The question alone makes us travelers beyond the frontier of our knowing. Our query brings us into the domain of faith, where facts are not in charge of the road signs. Here faith’s compass takes its bearings from the constellation of “things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith enlarges our perception, causing us to see the sacred in the depths of life. Faith knows of a God who is ever with us, for us and often against us. Though life may be like living on volcanic ground, ever vulnerable to an eruption, faith enables us to negotiate a way through, possibly helping us to rescue joy from heartbreak. We may not know what lies at the end of our days; still, faith is our passport to an order of things which can make us say, “We are not afraid.”

You have, as I have, a roster of sincerely held beliefs. If through the years we have been maturing spiritually and intellectually, the shape of our faith will have taken on enhanced dimensions, providing we’ve let our faith partner with doubt. I am persuaded that doubt often proves to be a well-lit entry to a deepening of faith. I need doubt to partner with faith, knowing it to be a necessary counterbalance lest I become obstinately rigid about matters that lie outside and beyond my mind’s reach. Above I allowed that we were truth-seeking beings. This being so, we do well to remember that this juggling of faith and doubt is also an experience of endless revision. It isn’t that there aren’t things for which I might go to the wall; but I am more ready to concede that much of what I believe will always have the character of tracings of light on a night-darkened glass.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation emeritus at First Parish Church in Saco and may be reached at:

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