The certainty of uncertainty
How true these words are today! Has there ever been a time, in recent history, more unsettling, more unpredictable, more challenging to our cherished ideals of faith and democratic values? Weren't we so sure that all the polls were correct in predicting Hillary's certain win of the presidency? Weren't we sure that the New England Patriots were losing the Super Bowl to the Atlanta Falcons?
Each day brings new challenges to our expectations, our traditional values, our long-held ideals. The phenomenon of uncertainty, however, is not limited to national events. It is apparent that all aspects of human experience are subject to some degrees of uncertainty. Realizing this may cause a crack, or at least, send a shiver, to our formerly rock-solid core of belief.
If uncertainty is inevitable, can we find some good in accepting it? Is it possible to become a better person by learning to live with it? Are there spiritual benefits in accepting uncertainty?
Uncertainty is not the same as doubt. To doubt something is to question the validity of something until it is proven to be so. For example, Thomas doubted Jesus' resurrection until he could see and touch Jesus' wounds. Some people doubt climate change despite seeing its obvious effects and the undeniable evidence presented by eminent scientists the world over. I may be uncertain about the weather, not sure if it will rain, but I don't doubt that it will rain sometime. I may be uncertain about life after death, but I have no doubt that there will be a resurrected life to follow this earthly one, for I believe Jesus' words spoken to Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me, even though you die, you shall live forever. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11, 25-26)
Living with uncertainty may be the cause of unsettling concerns about our health, our loved ones, our ministry, our future. We worry about the course our country seems to be heading, the outright racism and misogyny espoused by our elected and nonelected leaders, even our friends and relatives! We are unsure of just how many "other shoes" there are to drop.
In the meantime, the real "time between" my living and dying, I sign petitions, phone my senators and representatives, attend rallies, exercise daily, eat more vegetables, and do more praying. I try to channel anger into assertive endeavors.
In these instances, I am reminded of the words of the eminent Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner: "In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we come to understand that, here in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished."
Though I am a little reluctant to compare my life to a symphony, I can definitely relate to the unfinished part. Have we not all experienced leaving one assignment for someone else to carry on, or maybe to be dissolved so that something else can take its place?
As I age in religious life, I sorrowfully experience the diminishment and eventual death of my family members, my sisters, my friends. I also realize that my physical strength has waned, my eyesight has vanished, and my mental processes have slowed. But my symphony is far from finished!
In my youthful fervor, I was certain that by now I would be much holier and wiser. I have not mastered centering prayer or contemplation, despite daily attempts. I have not read the books, attended the lectures, made the retreats I would have liked. I have not said the right words to a grieving friend, nor made amends with others. My symphony is far from finished! The certainty of this situation is that I have no guarantee that I will reach my goals or mend my fences and accept that I am finished. No, I always want one more chance, another time, just one more, like the child who wants one more candy or one more hour to watch just one more program, or play one more hour. The one sure thing in all of these situations is that the one more time or one more chance will end, and at a time or place I may neither plan nor want.
I have no assurance that our country will one day be a welcoming haven for refugees, a safe place for all the LGBTQ community, that racism will be eradicated, that women's rights will be respected, that education and health care will be accessible to all.
What is important for me now, is to keep before me Jesus' words, spoken to his apostles after walking on the water, "Be not afraid." (Matthew 14:27).
The challenge before me, then, is to embrace "the insufficiency of everything attainable," to stop fretting over missed opportunities, to stop hankering for unrealistic achievements, to intensify my prayer life, and to continue my ministry with others experiencing vision loss, and, most importantly, to be grateful for all the undeserved gifts I have received. I believe that long after my generation is gone, there will continue to be strong voices and able bodies working for peace and justice. I believe in God's promises and trust in Jesus' words.
I sing with weak voice but full faith the words of Bob Dufford's song … "Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest."
For of this, I am certain.
[Elizabeth Fiorite has enjoyed being a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa for over 60 years. Her early years of ministry were as a teacher and principal in Catholic elementary schools. Her second career, after losing her sight, was as a social services counselor to others with vision loss which she did for 20 years until 2013. She lives with two other Dominican Sisters in Jacksonville, Florida, where they engage in peace and justice ministries.]
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