Help thou my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)
There are days I wish I were a person of faith, someone with solid convictions and firm beliefs that never waver when life gets shaky. The truth is, I’m not. I just can’t embrace anything so fully that I feel certain I am right. At least not when it comes to belief in God, the afterlife, purpose, or meaning. The closest I come is the desire to believe, the wanting there to be someone hearing my whispered prayer: help thou my unbelief.
I visited a shrine last week, one we used to visit when the kids were little, just as I had with my parents when I was little. I felt more of a connection to my mother there than to any god. As we walked through the peace garden, laid out like a giant rosary, I thought how much she would have loved this spot, this view, these statues. She had faith. She believed. And she would have stopped here and said real prayers to a real God. Would she have left feeling heard? Was that part of the deal, or did she have her own doubts? She never let on.
I bought prayer cards in the gift shop. When she was too sick to travel herself, I was her shrine proxy. I always brought her back something to prove I had been there. Usually another prayer card. The Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases. Our Lady of Broken Dreams. Something relevant. This time, I stocked up for myself and my kids—guardian angels for the car, more Marys, St. Anthony (because for some reason I can’t explain, he’s awesome and never lets me down). I probably should have just made a donation to the shrine itself in my mother’s memory. Instead, I left with a small bag of trinkets to prove I had been there again.
I felt unsettled as we started the long drive home. My unbelief needs more help than a walk around a shrine can give. I was still waiting for something to break through my consciousness. I wanted to feel that I wasn’t alone, sense that my mother and father were right there with me looking out from the top of the hill.
The truth is, I don’t want to believe anything—I want to know. I want to be sure. I watched out the window as we drove through the most amazing scenery winding through Vermont. I hadn’t been there in years. It felt like we were driving through a painting: light streaming through clouds onto the trees, green mountains, sheer rock faces. This was the real shrine, all around us. For a few moments, as I let myself be captured, awed, by nature’s beauty, I could imagine that God was real and life had meaning.
It didn’t last. Even though we took the scenic route home, we were quickly back into commonplace traffic with commonplace views. The cat greeted us anxiously at home, wondering where I had been. My vacation from myself was over. The mundane rules again. Help thou my unbelief.