Finding hope in awful times

March 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

The only course I teach this year is called Senior Synthesis. It is a semester-long reflection on a number of topics within the life of faith. It asks students to reflect upon formative experiences, to research the questions that those experiences raise, and then reflect upon answers. All this is done through the lens of a religious perspective. The goal is to help students take fragments of thought and conviction and synthesize those elements into something coherent and whole. We hope they arrive at a basic understanding of who they are, who God is for them, and how they understand their relationship with others.

During the semester, we get into some heavy stuff, including the intersection of doubt, suffering, and faith. In the course of my own reading, and in my attempt to answer students’ questions, I’ve come across some very helpful material that addresses those topics. I sent the below email to faculty mentioning one such resource that I hope will be helpful for readers of this site.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

In senior synthesis I spend a lot of time on themes of doubt and suffering, trying to give students some kind of framework for working through precisely what they, and we, and the Friscias, now face.  Obviously there is nothing like a solution. There is no answer key.  But there are some resources that have proved helpful.

One of the essays we read comes from Eamon Duffy, who wrote about his descent into darkness and unbelief – and back to belief — after a friend of his died. Like many of us today, Duffy stood “in the full blast” of a “dark wind.” Duffy is currently a history professor at Cambridge University, and he wrote the essay years ago. It is moving, deep, and honest – quite simply one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read.  I’ve attached it to this email and provided a few excerpts below:

  • “Every one of us, every human being, confronts at some time the collapse of meaning and direction in our lives – in anxiety, in illness, in unemployment or broken relationships, in all the forces that frustrate and diminish us as persons, and, at the last, in our own deaths. The Church has no pat answers to the dilemmas of existence, only a witness to what she knows. That under the mercy of God our perplexities, our failures, our betrayals, our limitations, can open into new freedoms, if we follow the way of Jesus.”
  • “There was no miraculous conviction. Perplexities and pain remained. I had and I have fewer certainties than before, and there are many areas of the faith that I gratefully and wholeheartedly accept which are opaque to me, like the idea of life after death. But now I know that faith is a direction, not a state of mind; states of mind change and veer about, but we can hold a direction. It is not in its essence a set of beliefs about anything, thought it involves such beliefs. It is a loving and grateful openness to the gift of being.”
  • “We know in the way of Jesus, not a law, but a liberation into true humanity; the power to love, to belong to one another, to start again when things go wrong, to be grateful, to adore.”

Here is a closing thought from Jesus, which he gave to his disciples not long before he was arrested: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)

I am unable to upload a PDF of the reading, but if anyone would like a copy, email me at and I will send along a copy.

Posted by Matt Emerson.


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