Last week I pondered the lack of certainty that is embedded both in the Bible and by the priest and theologians that dedicate their lives to sharing the Bible throughout the ages:
When we turn to the Priestly caste, by whatever title we bestow on them, in times of suffering or when our mortality is near its end, we don’t want uncertainty or insincerity. We want hope, consolation, and support. Sometimes we may want answers that cannot be answered by the best spiritual leaders in our community. Many priests fail here, not out of lack of trying, but out of over trying to help. They simply do not want to not deliver their faith in a manner that can bolster your faith when your tank is running on empty.
On Friday, two days after that post, I had 30 minutes to kill why in town before picking up my wife
from work. I had just recently bought three fiction books via Amazon and had no reason to go to the public library but went in anyway. Two books were in the new arrivals section display caught my eye. The Pastor, by Hanne Orstavik translated by Martin Aitkin and Birds of North America by the Audubon society. Hanne Orstavik book was translated from Norweigen.
The book itself looked tiny and is a work of fiction. When I picked it up, I did not read or delve into the background, which led to one funny revelation. I was many pages in before it was revealed that the Pastor was a woman. I had assumed the Pastor was a man. On revelation, the irony of my error perfectly matched some of the conflicts that the main character endured in the book.
I have just finished the book. As described in Amazon today, the book is “A thought-provoking, existential novel – as Liv searches for meaning and identity in her own life, she must find the words to connect, comfort, and lead others.” I would have known that the main character was a woman and that the book would cover some serious spiritual questions if I had taken a moment to reach the prologue. I did not, as I was rushed and had other books to read anyway. But for some reason, I picked up The Pastor that night. This was backup. About halfway through, I ran into this passage on page 193 by the main character Liv. Liv had a visceral reaction to a conference speaker describing how he was increasing church membership and outreach by, in essence, “dumbing down” the message and delivering it in terms that young believers could grasp and believe with assured certainty. Liv, having recently come face to face with untimely deaths caused by suicide, was shocked at the speaker’s cockiness and self-assuredness. She fled the conference in the confines of her room said these words:
“Stay with me. Tears trickled down my cheeks. There I sat, the Pastor weeping. With no way of comforting myself, unable to save me. The man who’d been giving the talk, going on like that about blessing, how certain he’d been. “I speak from the Spirit of God.” How could he be so certain? I didn’t have it in me to say anything of which I was certain. I couldn’t, I wasn’t capable. But they could, just how unfathomable to me. My job, which I’d accepted by joining the clergy, was it to be able to point and say that somewhere certainty exists? Something solid and true? Something that won’t ever fail?”
And a little further on down the page, Liv reaches the following conclusion:
“But trying to get rid of contradiction and ambiguity couldn’t help, the fall would still be bottomless, for the Bible couldn’t ever be as tightly woven as that. And what kind of certainty would it give, if not a single question were left?”
Two powerful statements answer a question I had reflectively posted the day before about the quandary priest face when consoling the bereaved, especially the bereaved for unexpected and untimely deaths. In the fictional character named “Liv,” the humbleness required to be a devout follower of Jesus Christ and the complex mystery of the Bible are clarified in the art of a fictional character living a complicated Pastors life in a foreign land.
Finding this book was completely random and unexpected. Finding the passage above resonated with the spiritual question of the day regarding uncertainty (of laypeople or priests) and sincerely supporting the bereaved was timely. I would say more about these two statements – but I think they speak for themselves better than me muddying them with my interpretation.
Many would say mere coincidence. Bernard B. Beltman M.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today
entitled “There Are No Coincidences,” where he points out the contradiction on that phrase and summarizes the challenge here:
“Coincidences exist. Coincidences are real. Saying that there are no coincidences stops inquiry. Challenging the statement forces us to make sense of its ambiguity and explore our potential involvement. You can choose the random perspective and with a wave of a mental hand, dismiss most coincidences as not worth further attention. Or, you can seek out their possible personal implications and make life into an adventure of discovery both about yourself and the world around you. As you explore, you may uncover the latent abilities hidden within you.”
Subjectively I believe in Coincidences. Of that I am certain! Too many have occurred to me that have knocked me off my center of objective stoicism and non-belief in such events. They are unexplainable. The above example is only a trifle and easily explainable as a consumer of vast amounts of literature is bound to find countless crossover connections between materials. I do not intend to convert stoics or non-believers of coincidence – they have a faith of sorts all their own, defended by a different set of principles or philosophers. As Beltman suggests, rather than fight over the unknown, let’s just delve into the mystery of the potential meaning of coincidences when they arise with discernment and dialogue – open to whatever may come.
I don’t know if I recommend Hanne Orstavik’s book. I found the writer intriguing and the storytelling good. The subject matter dancing around suicide and deep theological challenges spun in a time-warping manner. However, if you expect existential answers and certainty – you may be left wanting more. Perhaps the Audobon Bird book can provide more certainty!
Perhaps this quote from the internet web of images captures the mystery of coincidences.
Post-note: The hardest tragedy is the loss of a child. The following resource is scored 100 out of 100 by Charity Navigator. If you are interested in giving consider the Sudc Foundation: https://sudc.org/grief-resources/#
If you have lost a child recently or ever – my heart, compassion, and prayers have you in mind today. No discussion of coincidences, theology, mystery, causation, or other abstractions can change the reality of the loss of your loved one. I found this message particularly powerful.