WS Update: Dare to Doubt

December 27, 2021

The original Christmas stories are filled with doubts, but not of the bookish, philosophical variety. I’ve always been impressed with the story of the aged priest Zechariah, encountering the angel Gabriel, because Zechariah doubts while in the angel’s presence.

The angel shows up in the temple as Zechariah burns incense. Gabriel delivers the “good news” (Luke 1:19) to Zechariah that he and his wife will have a son, none other than John the Baptist. The priest, though terrified by this appearance, still has the presence of mind to ask and reason, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (v. 18). 

Gabriel chastises Zechariah for doubting, but that’s because of the staggering evidence standing right in front of him. How shall Zechariah know this promise will come true? Gabriel replies, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” In other words, “You have an angel standing in front of you, God’s personal attendant!”

The writer T. S. Eliot had doubts. “For people of intellect I think that doubt is inevitable … The doubter is a man who takes the problem of his faith seriously,” he said to an interviewer. When he wrote the poem “Gerontion,” he may have had himself in mind as he grappled with disappointments and sought to electrify his fledgling faith. In his book T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life, Lyndall Gordon reflects on the poem’s persona Gerontion:

Reviewing his life, Gerontion deplores its lack of action or commitment and the unenlightened death he faces. The self-absorption of … Gerontion and [his] anxiety for experience recall the unlived life in late tales of Henry James: middle-aged gentlemen who crave and dodge an overwhelming experience, like the leap of a beast in the jungle. “Came Christ the tiger,” Gerontion muses.

Even though he was already a believer of sorts, to process his doubts and renew his faith Gerontion needed not more reasons and reflection, but the presence of God, real and untamed. 

This Advent season, dare to doubt like Gerontion. Be willing to encounter “Christ the tiger”—or, we might add, Christ in the manger:

The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness.  In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

W83 Gallery

“At dawn on the first day” by Noemia Marinho with The Gleaning Project
January 21 – March 27, 2022
Opening reception: January 21, Friday, 7pm to 9pm

Noemia Marinho and the Gleaning Project, a small group of low-income New Yorkers, work with discarded materials such as plastic bags, milk cartons, bottles, and used tea bags to transform trash into beautiful and evocative works of art. Through her artistic practice and the created pieces, Noemia hopes to inspire others to share a vision for life that believes nothing is wasted, and radical transformation is possible.

Image:”Sunrise”, 2019.
discarded milk carton, acrylics paint, discarded tea bags, ph neutral pva
15×30 in.

Coming Up at RWS