As I made my rounds of the various postings on the subject of this week's theme of the word "faith", I noted particularly the number of people who had lost faith, who had trouble feeling faith, who had trouble believing in God without faith, who wished for the strength of faith in themselves even without faith in God, or who expressed a deep and abiding faith.
All of this followed the news that Mother Theresa regularly confessed to a lack of faith but acted as if she believed even when unable to feel anything. One of the repeated themes in literature is this "Dark Night of the Soul" sense of moving ahead without faith. Being a child of the 60s, I thought of a story song about moving ahead in faith: "The Reverend Mr. Black" with it's chorus of "You've got to walk that lonesome valley. You've got to walk it by yourself. Oh nobody else can walk it for you. You got to walk it by yourself."
In literature of course "The Valley of Despair" is a place in Pilgrim's Progress. In "Little Women" in the first chapter, the story speaks of Marmie's Christmas gifts to her daughters of the book by John Bunyan written while in jail for his religious beliefs. Marmie hopes that her daughters may learn to keep going even when confronted by temptation, terrified by evil, or abandoned in the Valley of Despair. Toward the end you have this quote when Beth is dying:
Beth could not reason upon or explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like a confiding child, she asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father and Mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only, could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and the life to come.Whether you believe in God or not is not the same thing as faith. Faith is the act of moving forward even when you are frightened, miserable, lonely or just mystified as to what life is all about. It is only in looking back that you can see how just the act of moving ahead got you past the rough and often cruel parts of life and in that moving ahead you found the nature of faith.
Little Women, chapter 36
Yes, Pilgrim's Progress was a protestant Christian allegory based in many ways on the old Catholic Mystery Plays, but the story written more than 400 years ago is about life and the difficulties that at one time or another we all face whatever our beliefs or lack of them. If you don't have a copy or can't find one at your library, you can download the book at The Guttenberg Project. So famous is the connection of John Bunyan with his character that someone viewing the figure with it's heavy burden on the tombstone knows where John Bunyan is buried.