I'm Hopeful I'll Figure Out Everything

January is almost over, girl—will you make it? I know you will, but I’m sorry to say that your reward for surviving January is February. I keep telling you I have a guest room…

So. Sher. (Mind if I jump ahead?)

I’ve always thought that I would enjoy discussing matters of faith and belief with you more in depth, and my suspicions were confirmed with your last letter. I read the article you posted, as well as the conversation it sparked between you and your friend. I’m surprised I didn’t get notifications as it was unfolding, seeing as how I was the first to comment with my brilliant take: “Bummer, the mobile site wants me to subscribe in order to read this article.” Likely I was sleeping while you were plumbing the depths of reality, so I missed it in real time.

In that thread you describe yourself as a questioning pessimist who’s sympathetic to the skeptic. I think I would describe myself as a skeptical idealist. I question my ability to know anything, but I’m hopeful I’ll figure out everything. Which is why I was drawn to the title of the book I’m currently reading: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, by Barbara Ehrenreich. (Based on the questions you were asking your friend about how he derives meaning in a God-less life, I’m assuming the title grabs you, too.)

I’m still early in the book, just past her first dissociative episode (which I’m pretty sure I’ve also had a few times, by the way… another topic for another day, or perhaps a question for the next psychiatrist I meet) and not yet to the “cataclysmic mystical experience” I’ve been promised in the book description. Right now I’m reading her circular, claustrophobic musings about how to figure out anything when the only two things she is convinced of are (1) that she exists and (2) that she doesn’t know anything else. (I exist, and I know nothing. I have those days.) She gets a little dark when she starts on the matter of meaning, which she describes as a seasoning that we add to make “even the most fetid piece of meat” palatable; and she gets moodier still when she talks about reading her favorite poetry:

“They were just doing their job, these poets, which is really the job of all of us—to keep applying coat after coat of human passion and grandiosity to the world around us, trying to cover up whatever it is that lies beneath.”

Interesting. She thinks of meaning as something we create, build, or coat upon “whatever lies beneath.” I think of meaning as what lies beneath. Are we builders, or are we excavators? (Or are we dancers?)

Either way, whether we’re building or digging, we’re asking questions. If this is an accident, what purpose can we create out of it? If this is design, what purpose was there behind it? I thought it was interesting that your friend’s ultimate answer to the meaning of life was “love,” when that’s mine, too. Other Christians (those of a less humanist bent than me, those with heavier and scarier theology than I can sanely manage) would argue that God’s glory is the highest purpose. But I see love under and over and through it all. My soul is reverberating with recognition and purpose when I’m a participant or a witness of love. So I gravitate to the places in scripture where everything is boiled down to that one essence. God is love. The whole law is love. Do anything without love and you’ve done nothing.

You asked if I could hope with you.

Friend, there are two things I do persistently in this life. I ask questions, and I hope. Even when I’m confused, even when I’m scared, even when I’m wildly disapproving of God, even when my belief and unbelief are so jumbled up that I’m not sure which one was which, even when I’m confronted with something horrific and all I can manage is a quiet, uninteresting, desperate little why?—I’ve always been able to ask questions, and I’ve always been able to hope. So yes, let’s hope together. 

One of my favorite conversations with you was as we were walking in the park this last summer with our little boys, and I made mention of some question that bothers me. You said, “You know what? I’ve started writing all of those questions down in a list.” I asked, “What for?” You said, “Because I actually want God to answer them. It’s a long list.” I asked, “And how many do you have answers for yet?” You said, “Oh, none. But they’re coming.”

I thought, “This girl’s got nerve."