Last week I had my usual Wednesday post all edited and ready to go. Then, just as I was putting the final flourishes on the piece, a piece praising a benevolent, kind and loving God, a news flash burst across my screen. There had been yet another mass shooting in the good old U.S. of A. - 19 children and 2 adults had been gunned down in Ulvade Texas. And I scrapped that piece, praising God in all his wisdom, then and there. I felt betrayed, outraged, confused. Where was God in Ulvade? Where was he in Buffalo the week before? Where is he in Ukraine or Syria or Yemen today? Has he given his blessing to the psychopaths wandering the earth? Does he protect the marauding hordes that have been conquering, raping, pillaging and massacring innocents since the beginning of time?
Where is God in all this horror? My atheist friends use events like these…mass murders, natural disasters with hundreds dead, genocides, holocausts and the like…as stone cold evidence that there is no God. They believe that we are born, we live our lives, we die, and that is that. But I have a hard time being an atheist. I know for a fact that something supernatural helped me when I was unable to bear the weight of my addictions. When I was absolutely unable to stop drinking on my own. In my despair I reached out to God or a Higher Power and something arrived to help me. Out of the ether something came to my aid and I was comforted. I was supported. I was given strength at my darkest, weakest time. I no longer felt alone. And that peace, that sense of communion with a Higher Power has kept me sober, stable, and generally content for several years now.
But when tragedy strikes, I worry. What if it's all a lie? What if God really is just the opiate of the masses and nothing else? I did enjoy the old opiates, back in the day, so maybe that's the draw, but at times like these, I feel my faith waver. What if I'm just hypnotizing myself into a false belief system because it's the easier way to live? The lazy way to live. The non-questioning way to live. So after some tragic event like Ulvade, I lose faith a bit. I lose faith a lot. And I think "Screw it. It's all bullshit. God did help me stop killing myself with drugs and alcohol but where was he for those little kids? Why would he save a mean old drunk like me but not those children? What is his 'master plan' right now? How would any of those families affected in Ulvade react if I were to say ”you know, in God's world everything happens for a reason”? I have a very hard time believing that myself.
Thank God I have A.A. The day after the shooting I went to my usual morning meeting and raised my hand. "My faith in God is shaken" I said to a room full of people I know and some complete strangers. "How can God permit this?" I railed. After the meeting someone came over to me. "This tragedy has nothing to do with God" he told me, "but everything to do with Man and his nature. Man is what he is. That’s the human predicament. Good and bad and brilliant and horrific." It wasn't exactly comforting but I do see his point.
I remember a speech I heard after the Boston Marathon bombing. A priest was talking to his congregation and he quoted this poem by Corrie ten Boom:
Life is but a Weaving
Oft' times he weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper
And I the underside.
He explained that we, with our limited human vision, can only see the messy confusing ugly underside of the tapestry. But that God in his omnipotence sees the upper side of the tapestry, the side where everything comes together to make a cohesive beautiful image. He continued that although we can focus on the dark threads in a tapestry, the majority of the threads in any tapestry are light, and it is the contrast between the darkest threads and the lightest threads that makes the tapestry so deep and so meaningful. He went on, explaining that the dark threads are our trials and tribulations, the tragic events, the senseless deaths. The light threads are our joys and triumphs, our sense of peace and wonder. "There are many more bright threads walking this planet than there are maniacs" he said.
It was three days after the Boston Marathon bombing that this priest asked his flock to look at the light around the tragedy. A city pulling together. A city full of people who, on the day of the bombing, endangered themselves to help others. There is a stunning photograph from the day of the bombing. It shows a man, Carlos Arredondo, clamping (with his thumb and forefinger) the femoral artery of a man whose legs had been blown off. Had Carlos not pinched that artery the young man surely would have bled out. When interviewed after the event Carlos said that it was all a blur, a foggy memory. He remembered thinking nothing at the time, only that he must clamp that artery. He felt as though he was operating on some divine autopilot. He is a bright light shining against the evil darkness in the tapestry of that day. “Focus on that instead” the priest beseeched us. “Focus on Carlos and the hundreds of people who rushed to Boston to help, the millions of people around the world who prayed for the victims. Focus on the good of Man during those dark times and you will feel the love of God.”
And I do during those times. I do pray for the victims of these episodes and that does make me feel better. But how would I feel if one of these completely senseless massacres touched me directly? I'm afraid to even write those words. Afraid that I may be tempting a cruel and vindictive God to test me, to test my faith. A test to see if I could stand that level of pain. I don't think I would be able to. Even with my belief in God. Even knowing that he helped me once before.
Years ago I read a book of the letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. She had requested, quite emphatically, that upon her demise all her letters be burned. But apparently the Vatican had other plans and after her death, they collected and published her letters. I'm sure she would be furious if she knew, because what those letters revealed quite clearly is that Mother Teresa was deeply tormented about her faith. Mother Teresa had real periods of doubt. Doubts about the very existence of God. In a way I feel reassured by that. In 1953 she wrote "please pray specially for me that I may not spoil his work and that Our Lord may show Himself - for there is such a terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead". And in 1979 she wrote to her cherished advisor Reverend Michael van der Peet “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear".
That's how I feel when I see those news flashes. Why bother with God at all?
I bother because, in my faith, I find strength to get through the hard times in life. And if I am able to stay strong and not crumble, I may be available to help others. I pray that holding on to my faith would help me to be additive in my short time here on planet earth rather than subtractive, the way I was in active addiction. And while Mother Teresa had long stretches of what she called "spiritual barrenness", she never stopped seeking communion with God. And she never, ever stopped trying to be helpful to those in her care. So we are complicated. Mankind is complicated. We are a warring, fighting, covetous species with a handful of psychopaths floating undetected among us. Psychopaths keeping us perpetually on our toes, and causing intense pain and anguish when they act on their delusions. And yet we persevere. We carry on and we grapple with our faith. I do anyway. I take comfort that Mother Teresa also did, that Saint John on the cross with his whole "dark night of the soul" experience did. Even Jesus Christ himself had some doubts.
I lose my connection sometimes and I feel alone again, forsaken, ready to give up. Sometimes I even feel ready to drink again. But I won't. Not today anyway. I'll keep striving to understand God's will and I'll keep striving to feel His grace. I won't drink today because I am a much better person without drugs and alcohol. I am a better person sober. By staying sober and continuing to seek God I think I have a chance of becoming a bright thread in the tapestry of life. But without my higher power guiding me, supporting me, comforting me, I don't think I would stand a chance.