The Slow Rewards of Fidelity
Sometimes life has a way of, I don’t know, settling in. Like a fog over the bay, like a dull, sometimes barely perceptible ache.
Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe it’s the result of seeing too many people hurting because of too many things. Maybe it’s the grinding cynicism borne of a shallow culture where we’re always trying to sell each other things or shout each other down. Maybe it’s the incremental erosion of youthful idealism, the gradual coming-to-terms with the fact that struggle and suffering and uncertainty will always be part of the furniture down here. Maybe it’s the residue of so many unanswered or strangely-answered prayers, so many unfulfilled or strangely–fulfilled promises. Maybe it’s a wondering if I am doing all I could or should in the world, if I am being all that I could or should be to those I love (and those I don’t). Maybe it’s the sobering recognition that I undoubtedly am not. Maybe it’s indigestion. Maybe it’s some combination thereof.
At any rate, on this morning where the fog rolls in, where the ache returns, when God seems distant, when life settles in, these words, from Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic speak truth and hope to me:
I compared beginning to believe to falling in love, and the way that faith settles down in a life is also very like the way that the first dizzy-intense phase of attraction settles (if it does) into a relationship. Rapture develops into routine, a process which keeps its customary doubleness where religion is concerned. It’s both loss and gain together, with excitement dwindling and trust growing; like all human ties, it constricts at the same time as it supports, ruling out other choices by the very act of being a choice.
And so, as with any commitment, there are times when you notice the limit on your theoretical freedom more than you feel what the attachment is giving you, and then it tends to be habit, or the awareness of a promise given, that keeps you trying. God makes an elusive lover. The unequivocal blaze of His presence may come rarely or not at all, for years and years—and in any case cannot be commanded, will not ever present itself tamely to order…
And yet, and yet. He may come at any moment, when and how you least expect it, and that somehow slightly colours every moment in the mass of moments when he doesn’t come.
And grace, you come to recognise, never stops, whether you presently feel it or not. You never stop doubting—how could you?—but you learn to live with doubt and faith unresolved, because unresolvable. So you don’t keep digging the relationship up to see how its roots are doing. You may have crises of faith but you don’t, on the whole, ask it to account for itself philosophically from first principles every morning, any more than you subject your relations with your human significant other to daily cost-benefit analysis. You accept it as one of the givens of your life. You learn from it the slow rewards of fidelity. You watch as the repetition of Christmases and Easter, births and deaths and resurrections, scratches on the linear time of your life a rough little model of his permanence…
And meanwhile you make faith your vantage point, your habitual place to stand. And you get used to the way the human landscape looks from there.