Monday, April 29, 2019


When a Sufi teacher died
            and reached the gates of Heaven,
            the gatekeeper came out and said,
            I am here to escort you into paradise
             but first I must ask you three questions.

Not so fast, the teacher replied.
            First, I need to ask you a thing or two.
             How do I know you’re the gatekeeper?
            Do you have a badge?
            And how do I know these gates really 
                        lead to paradise?
            How do I even know any of this is real?
            This whole thing could be the delusions
                        of my mind disordered
                        by the process of death.
 At that point a big voice called out from inside the gates.
            Let him in. He sounds like one of us.

Today’s Gospel is about the tension 
between faith and doubt.
We rotate through three different versions
            of the Resurrection story for Easter Sundays
on a three year cycle.
But we read the story of doubting Thomas
            on Easter II every year without fail.
We hear it three times as often
            as any of the Easter stories.
Maybe that’s because faith versus doubt 
is the threshold issue in any religion.

There is a place for doubt in the spiritual life.
A pure, honest doubt has three virtues.
First, it is serious.
It takes the big questions earnestly enough
            to insist on the truth rather than 
            the first sweet platitude that floats by.

Second, pure, honest doubt is intelligent.
It digs into the evidence and dares to think.
Third, it is courageous.
Honest doubt prefers hard truth to comforting lies.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, in the elegy for  Arthur Henry Hallam, 
praised his friend’s doubts.
Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds,
            At last he beat his music out.
            There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

Tennyson knew Hallam’s doubt was honest
            because he didn’t indulge in stubborn cynicism.
Hallam was struggling toward faith. Tennyson wrote,
            He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
                        He would not make his judgments blind
                        He faced the specters of his mind
                        and laid them: thus he came at length
            To find a stronger faith his own. . . . .

St. Thomas’s story is also about the movement       
          from doubt to faith.
But I not sure Thomas’s doubt was as honest as Hallam’s.
Frankly, I’m a little suspicious of Thomas.
I wonder why all the other disciples were there
            for the first Resurrection appearance on Easter
            but Thomas was A W O L.
Was he perhaps distancing himself a bit?

Then when the disciples first tell Thomas,
            The Lord lives!
Thomas doesn’t say,
            How wonderful! or I so wish I’d been there!
            or I pray with all my heart it is true!

He says, Oh yeah? Prove it.
He dismisses their good news, 
essentially calls them liars,
refusing to trust anyone but himself.
This sounds more like ego than a quest for truth.
There is a pure and honest doubt.
But there is also a doubt
            that is a way to avoid intimacy,
            duck commitment, and
assert one’s intellectual pride.

It’s a stubborn doubt that holds God and people
            at arm’s length – a doubt too proud
            to doubt itself.

There is also a so-called doubt that isn’t doubt at all.
It is, in fact, a dogmatic narrow-mindedness
            that refuses to believe the world might
            be different from what our culture claims
            or we’ve been taught by those in charge.

No culture has ever been more arrogant
            than the Modern West
            in claiming to have a monopoly on truth.
We scoff at Asia and Africa.
We scoff at our ancestors.
We call ourselves thinkers 
            but we do more scoffing than thinking.
Proud cynicism closes the mind.
Honest doubt opens it.
It considers the possible truth or falsehood
            of all the claims on the table.

A pure, honest doubt doesn’t substitute
            contempt for clear thinking
                        and an openness to truth
            from outside our little realm of experience.

Buddhist teacher, Thubten Chodron, asks what
            it takes to qualify a person to study life.
He says,
            One quality . . . is open-mindedness. . . . 
We let go of our hard and fast agenda, 
of our likes and dislikes, and . . .our erroneous opinions 
about the nature of reality . . . .  
If we . . . hold strongly to our preconceptions . . ., 
we . . . evaluate teachers by whether . . . 
they agree with our ideas. . . . 
Such an attitude blocks us from learning.

Finally, there is a doubt that just doesn’t get what faith is. 
It’s stuck in thinking faith is an intellectual opinion. 
But faith isn’t that at all.
Faith is a plunge into the mystery, 
trusting the mystery.
Faith is an open heart. 
False doubt is a closed heart.

Tennyson wrote,
            If e’er when faith had fallen asleep
                        I heard a voice say, “believe no more.”
            . . . . .
            A warmth within the breast would melt
                        The freezing reason’s colder part
                        And like a man in wrath the heart
            Stood up and answered, “I have felt.”

William James, father of American psychology,
            said that faith and doubt both arise in our will
-- not our reason.
We choose to believe or not.
That’s why St. Anselm, the most rational,
            the most logical medieval theologian, said,
            Credo ut intelligam.
            (I believe in order to understand). 

And it’s why the most skeptical, the most questioning
            philosopher of our time, Jacques Derrida,
            titled one of his last books,
            Believing In Order To See.

Faith comes first.
Understanding follows.
There is a rightful place for both faith and doubt
            in every heart.
Just don’t let your doubt be smug.
Don’t let it be arrogant.
Don’t trust your doubt.

Doubt your doubt,
            and it will open your heart to God,
            so faith will rise within you 
            like the Son on Easter Morning.