The phenomenon of resonance fascinates me. Step on a piano’s sustain pedal, strike a low A and–if the piano is in tune–the A an octave higher will vibrate in symphony with the first. So will the E above that. And another A, and then a C sharp. Like a pebble dropped in a placid lake, the sound reverberates outward, up and down the scale, soliciting a response from surrounding notes. Even more astonishing, these higher notes are actually within the original note–hidden inside as shorter ratios and lengths. And when their deeper relative sounds into existence, they too are summoned into the world.

Built into the very fabric of the universe, into the atomic nature of matter and harmonics and relationality, is the capacity for one thing to invite another into existence. 

~

Every now and then a story about Jesus drops into my placid mind, reverberating me out of my slumber, usually inviting into existence both hope and doubt, faith and fear.

Like the story of the father with the “demon-possessed son” in Mark 9. I can picture the man standing before Jesus, wild-eyed and desperate, rambling a little and beside himself from the desperate fear that–yet again–the healing he’d hoped to find for his son at the feet of yet another healer might prove futile. “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us,” he mumbles at last. And the words catch in his throat.

The story from Mark reminds me of a man I know–a pastor, in fact–whose young daughter has spent most of her short life battling a brutal, gnawing cancer. The pastor and his wife have done everything they know to do–chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, even traveling halfway around the world in search of yet another healer with cutting-edge, state-of-the-art experimental treatments. They have tens of thousands of people pulling for them, praying and fasting for them, raising money for them.

But still the cancer claws.

~

Just last week my pastor–Joy–led the congregation full force into chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, and invited us to imagine ourselves inside that dusty scene: the epileptic boy just there on the street, foaming at the mouth, thrashing and kicking up a cloud of dust; the father pulling his hair out beside Jesus; the confused and embarrassed disciples (why hadn’t they been able to heal the boy?); the hungry crowds gawking over one another’s shoulders to see what would happen next.

And there, in that place, Joy asked us to name the spaces in our own lives where faith and fear mingle and resonate. She invited us to cry out to Him with words desperate as that father’s, desperate as that pastor’s, and name our own flickering faiths, our own gnawing fears.

It took a while to get going, of course. When are people ever comfortable privately acknowledging, much less publicly naming their weaknesses? But then someone cried out:

I believe you have someone for me to love, Lord. But I fear I will spend my life alone. 

A stifled sob followed a moment later from the one who spoke–loneliness made audible. I was dumbstruck. We all were. No longer was Mark 9 an ancient, obsolete story about someone else, somewhere else, speaking a different language, living in a different culture, resident of a different world. This is our story too.

So Joy invited us to enter into our own story, and respond:

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

The room fell silent again, but not for long.

I believe you have a home for me Lord. But I fear I will always be homeless.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

I believe you are bringing peace into our world, Lord. But I fear I’ll lose still more of my family to war.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

I believe you can heal my cancer, Lord. But I fear I might die.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

I was in tears at this point, overwhelmed by my fellow congregants’ vulnerability and honesty. In tears with my own fears roiling inside me. I believe The Gospel. Yes. Of course. But I have so many questions. And and so many doubts, too.

Had I the breath in that moment (or the courage?) I wonder which of my legion uncertainties I might have voiced:

I believe you provide, Lord. But I fear there won’t be enough to meet our needs.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

I believe You exist, Lord. But I fear religion is just a beautiful story we tell ourselves in order to feel less vulnerable, less alone.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

I believe in the Resurrection, Lord. But I fear it might be merely a myth.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

~

When I was a child, I thought like a child: faith and fear were categorically different–they didn’t mix any more than fire and water. Thus (I reasoned) if only I believed hard enough, if only I had enough faith, then I wouldn’t have anything to fear.

But now that I am older, I can’t help wondering about the relationship between faith and fear. It seems to me they are much more closely related than my childish ways of thinking could allow. When I say I believe something, is not the fear that I believe wrongly close at hand? When I fear what I believe is untrue, is not the fear in step with the hope that the belief just might be true?

What if, like notes on a scale, faith and fear are resonant? What if they are woven together in some mysterious, mystical, inexplicable way–integrated into the very fabric of human existence? What if the existence of one actually invites the other into the world?

And, most astonishing of all, what if God means for it to be that way?

If it is so, it seems there is only one response, only one refrain broad and deep enough to uphold a lifetime of this oscillation, this companionship, this symphony, this resonance:

I believe, Lord. Help Thou my Unbelief!

 

Photo Credit: Stuart Williams via Compfight