Posted by: jevcat | August 8, 2010

Faith, the Brontës, Philipp Nicolai, and Me

“Now faith is substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

As much as I like some of the modern translations, for this passage, give me the good old KJV.  (It has been reported to me that someone was overheard saying, “We should read the Bible in the King James Version, just the way God wrote it!”  In the case of this particular passage, I might tend to agree.) 

The New Revised Standard Version, which we used at church this morning, has it, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  That’s fine, but for someone who struggles with faith, as I do, the unadulterated original KJV has, well, more substance; “conviction” sounds like something I’d rather avoid; “evidence” sounds reassuringly scientific and definite. 

One recent Monday, I found out I hadn’t gotten a job the description of which sounded as though it had been written for me, as though everything I’d ever done had led to this point; and later in that same day, I unexpectedly had to have a beloved cat companion put “to sleep.”  The loss of a job prospect, when I’ve been out of work ten months and money is running out, especially when it seemed so perfect, was a heavy blow.  The loss of Sofia, who was our lap cat and my cuddle kitty, was as bad in a different way.  And all this while my Beloved is away.  The combination made me feel as though I’d been blind-sided and shoved off a cliff.   I’ve been struggling to find my feet, or at least something to hold on to, ever since.  And all the while, the Sunday lectionary year has been chugging through “faith”-related passages:  Abram, Hebrews.  What am I supposed to make of this?

At the same time, I’ve been working my way through The Brontës:  A Life in Letters, edited by Juliet Barker.  I think it was my brother who gave it to me quite a while back, but I hadn’t gotten around to it until now.  You’d think it would be the worst possible thing for me to be reading at this point:  “reduced circumstances,” the four siblings’ never-ending search for suitable positions, taking jobs they hated, separated from those they loved for long periods, dealing with illness and death. 

But the thing is, they kept on.  With the exception of Branwell, who did pretty much give up everything except alcohol, they kept encouraging one another, they kept struggling – and they kept writing.  Even Branwell seems to have kept trying, at least intermittently, and I felt a shock of recognition reading from his letter to a friend, “ … in truth when I fall back on myself I suffer so much wretchedness that I cannot withstand any temptations to get out of myself … ”  I recognized that feeling; it’s where I’ve been since that Monday.  Yet isn’t a letter such as that a reaching out for help? 

As for the women – Charlotte, Emily, Anne – they kept fighting:  if we can’t do this, maybe we can do that, and if nothing else, we can write – hopefully for publication, but nevertheless, write.  I have found their determination moving, and somehow reading their story in their own words has made me feel stronger, less alone in my struggles.  (It has also reminded me that Charlotte had a funny, steely, snarky side one doesn’t necessarily realize if the only work of hers one has read is Jane Eyre.  I have a soft spot for Charlotte.)

Then, this morning at church, not only did the Epistle bring the Hebrews passage quoted at top, but for some reason we were singing a couple of Advent hymns, one of which was “Sleepers, Wake,” words by Philipp Nicolai, and filled with vision of joy and “Alleluia” refrain.  I had seen his name in the hymnal all my life, but on a freelance assignment earlier this year I ran into biographical information I hadn’t known.  Nicolai was a Lutheran theologian and pastor at a time and place when those were dangerous things to be, a time when just staying alive was difficult, regardless of one’s theology – in 1597, he lost more than 1,000 members of his congregation to the plague – which rather makes my own current state look like a church school picnic.  Yet, in the midst of horror and loss our sheltered lives can barely imagine, he wrote the collection of meditations of which this hymn is a part:  “Freudenspiegel” or “Mirror of Joy.” 

I thought of that this morning and suddenly found myself in tears.  And I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I can do a little of this “Faith” thing after all.



  1. You do a lot of “this faith thing” even when it’s horribly hard. I am sorry it’s been so very hard recently. As one of the people who exists in your material world, as well as your blogosphere, I hope to see you soon!

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