MAY / JUNE 2012: BY RACHEL McMILLAN
GOD DOESN’T ALWAYS make sense. Though it is to be expected in looking through a glass dimly and embarking on individual faith journeys, His seeming absence and utter silence are more than perplexing.
For some, admitting there are issues with the greater vision of eternity and God’s plan is equal to admitting spiritual inadequacy or even defeat. We think the questions; we feel them and are immediately given to guilt. We look to others and wonder they seem to have their faith walk figured out, why don’t I? In these moments (and they occur more often than I’d like to admit) I find the courage and honesty of Miss Christy Huddleston to be inspiring. She rebelled against the norm by posing questions of deep doubt and troubled faith.
Christy by Catherine Marshall is a hybrid: a fictional memoir re-imagining the author’s mother’s life as a teacher in mountainous Tennessee, and a platform through which Marshall can reclaim the power of questions, uncertainty, and disbelief. It validates the fleeting thoughts sifting through my mind as I daily embark on my flawed spiritual journey: misunderstanding, stumbling, doubting, disappointed by silence, and aching for clarity. Christy probes me to voice my disappointment, and to confront the deep spiritual truths that pepper daily life as a contemporary believer.
“The only time I ever find my dealings with God less than clear-cut,” Christy admits, “is when I’m not being honest with Him. The fuzziness is always on my side—not His.” She advocates a true and open relationship with her Savior, cognizant of the fact that at the core of His being and existence is truth. She muses, “Some of what I wrote bordered on blasphemy—if there was a God, he would have to be truth. And, in that case—candor—however impertinent—would be more pleasing to Him than posturing.”
Her journey begins with an act of faith when she leaves a high society life to serve as schoolteacher at a Mission in lowly Cutter Gap. Soon Christy realizes that there is more at stake than goodwill and Christian kindness. She is prodded more to confront her faith and Christianity. She is changed far more by her circumstances and interactions than she is able to change them: especially by the contrast between extreme beauty and pathos surrounding her and the mountain people. “Living in the middle of beauty like this, we’ve no call to have puny ideas about God,” she rails on one occasion. Part of the challenge is in the contradiction: an awe-inspiring canvas housing earthly turmoil immediately sets her against all cozy Sunday School notions learned in formative years.
The influence of others as she develops her faith is also significant: mostly through her relationships with the righteous Quaker woman Alice Henderson, the pragmatic and good-natured (if spiritually baffled) David Grantland, and the Cove’s agnostic and spirited doctor Neil MacNeill, who shares her dedication and love for the people of the Gap even if he doesn’t initially share her faith. It is he who influences her most greatly when he challenges her to confront what Christianity means to her and determine why she’s a believer. Christy, young and impressionable, has been greatly inspired by Alice’s life battles and solid faith to the point where she can quote her at large.
David, while a wonderful guide to the children and devoted shepherd, wrestles so much with the greater mysteries and tenets of spiritual dogma (such as eternal life) that he’s unable to provide a substantive claim when a dying woman asks the hardest question of all about life after death. Christy, thus, learns that her penchant for asking hard and tough questions make her just as strong a believer and as blessed and fulfilled by her journey as those she has emulated around her.
While Christy rails against Neil’s obstinacy when it comes to matters of faith and his strong scientific beliefs, she likewise recognizes that he pushes her to confront the issues that challenge her the most. This leads her to forge a belief all her own based on her own experience, her personal relationship with Christ, and beyond the realm of human expectation or influence. This pairs our ultimate Christian heroine with her ultimate hero: what sets Neil apart from Christy’s other suitor, David and, I argue, most other fictional men of his ilk, is not his initial reticence to lean on God or his ultimate re-connection with the Savior but the time in-between when his internal struggle guides him to challenge Christy to the point where both their faiths become stronger. There is no better love story than that.
The same questions Christy asks and the same prodding moments that fluster her when verbally battled by Neil have forced me on more than one occasion to stop and reassess my own walk. God doesn’t give us all of the answers for a reason. He wants us to challenge Him, rail against Him, seek further in hopes of finding our human equivalent of spiritual clarity. Christianity is not a religion for the weak-minded: there are far too many contradictions, far too much suffering and far too many open-ended questions beyond our realm of understanding. Leaning on faith is what Christy does as a genuine approach to a world that baffles her.
I encourage Christians to keep asking, no matter how inane or embarrassing the questions might seem. I also encourage them to, like Christy, come to the understanding that the Christian walk is not for wimps, it has no room for ignorance, and it is built on the presupposition that we will take the winding and complicated mystery of life and faith and, with God’s help, act on it. Don’t shy from the questions; don’t shy from reading, living, and experiencing. After all, as Christy says, “A Christian has no business being satisfied with mediocrity. He’s supposed to reach for the stars. Why not? He’s not on his own anymore. He has God’s help now.” ♥