Crisis of Faith: T. SHER SINGH
Part I - John K.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
I saw him the moment my eyes became accustomed to the dim light in the café. He was in the back, sitting on one of the sofa chairs. Alone.
So, as soon as I had picked up my coffee, I walked over and asked him if I could join him. He nodded.
I have known him for a couple of years now, mostly as a coffee shop acquaintance. I can’t remember how, but we first got talking right here. I think it may have been with his asking me if I was setting up a mosque in Mount Forest, and my explaining to him that I was a Sikh, and no, I wasn’t turning the church I had moved in into a mosque, only a residence.
He wanted to know what a Sikh was. When I had given him a brief intro, we got talking about his church, which happened to be across the road from where I lived. Actually, I could see it from my window all the time, as I worked in my office.
Since then, we’ve either run into each other at the same café, or he sometimes knocks on my door on Sundays, after he’s been to church.
“Haven’t seen you for some time, John,“ I said, just to make small talk, as I settled down on the sofa chair across from him.
“Yeah,” he said.
“How come?” I asked, trying to spark a conversation.
A few sips of my coffee, and still not another word from him.
“Anything the matter?” I asked him again, this time trying to goad him into making eye contact.
I was about to give up, when he finally looked up and looked at me briefly. “Yup. Things haven’t been going too well lately …”
Slowly, and painfully, like pulling teeth, I was able to get him to open up.
He’d lost his job; his company had decided to close their branch office in the area. It had happened suddenly, and he was struggling with finding something new. Which translated into financial difficulties.
And things weren’t going well at home either. He and his wife were talking about going their separate ways.
It got worse, as he went on. His sons - he has two, but no daughters - had taken his mother’s side and were blaming him for everything. One lived in Toronto, the other in Kitchener, and neither had come home for months. His wife was talking of moving to Toronto, to be close to their eldest.
Nothing was going right, John confessed. It was affecting his health. High blood pressure. Diabetes. He had sunk into deep despair. His doctor had identified it as clinical depression, and put him on more pills.
It took him an effort to tell me all of this.
And then he blurted out: “So, I haven’t been to church for months.”
I nodded, not knowing what to say.
“What’s the point,” he said, this time as if to goad a response from me.
It certainly gave me a jolt.
He’d been deeply religious. I knew he was, from our occasional conversations, when he would probe about my Sikh beliefs and we’d get talking about religion. I had enjoyed our exchanges: we seemed to appreciate each other’s faith and had been digging deeper and deeper into our separate journeys.
It hit me like a personal betrayal. How could he let go his anchor? I had felt strengthened in my own beliefs, seeing them reflected in his, and now he was abandoning his, letting them adrift.
I offered him my support, but remained unsure as to how I could help him as he drifted in his spiritual wilderness. I’ve made it a point to see him every few days, to spend time with him, to let him know I’m here for him.
But it has kept me preoccupied during my own time.
When I sit down with him in the café and we talk about his trials and tribulations, both material and spiritual, I try not to let my own internal struggles interfere. I want our meetings to be about him, not me.
But when I head home, I find myself floundering in a million questions … and no answers.
I have always been troubled when I find someone around me, friend or acquaintance or loved one, going through what he or she calls a crisis of faith.
I don’t understand it. I cannot fathom it.
I’ve read Job over and over again through the years, but each time I come away stronger, not through certainty or sureness, but through drawing a line between what is real and what isn’t.
The difficulty I have is in understanding how one begins to question one’s faith, to turn against it, when one is in trouble.
So, nothing is going right in your life: you lose your job, your marriage crumbles, your family abandons you … and you turn around and blame it on your faith?
For causing it, or for failing to prevent it? How?
I have always thought that faith is for times when nothing makes sense, not that you abandon it when nothing makes sense.
I have asked John this: you have never questioned the force of gravity when things haven’t been going right in your life, have you? You’ve never wondered whether the sun will rise the next morning, or whether spring will arrive on time next March, merely because everything has gone awry in your world?
Then why question or tear down the other thing that was solid and firm and central to your life? Why is that the first thing we let go when we can’t find answers?
Is it because we’re looking for an easy scapegoat?
When something goes wrong, it must be somebody else’s fault. If we lose our job, it is because of our employer’s wrongs. If our marriage breaks up, the blame is on our spouse’s shoulders. If our family fails us, it is always they who have failed us.
There always has to be a blame-taker, and it can never be me.
If nothing appears to be going right, then it has to be because that biggest thing in our life, our faith, has failed us.
We call it a crisis of faith, because we convince ourselves that somehow it is the church, or our religion, or God, that has failed us.
Thus, we don’t have to take personal responsibility.
And, if we are not personally responsible, then it has to be someone else who has to be the one who has to fix it. Not me.
Continued on Thursday … CRISIS OF FAITH: AMRIT SINGH