19 June 2008

Losing faith, keeping faith

Since we have been away from Edgefield, we have received news of two deaths. One being the Secretary of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina’s convention, Wilma Rose Davis, wife of a retired priest and mother of the sub dean of Trinity Cathedral in Columbia. The other, the Rev’d Harry Lawhon, a former rector of Grace Church in Camden, a parish I served right out of seminary. Though Harry was no longer the rector when I arrived, he turned out to be one of my early supporters, an unlikely alliance for me at the time and one that surprised many of Harry’s friends.

Wilma’s short illness came on suddenly and her death was unexpected; family and friends near and far had been keeping vigil with Harry for several weeks. I rather doubt either of them, Harry or Wilma, ever lost their faith, but there’s a lot I don’t know about a lot of things, the full scope and spectrum of either of these individuals’ spiritual lives included. I’ll miss the funerals, both of which I would have attended were we at home.

While Tal and I have been living here in cabin four, I read a novel, The Keeper’s Son, by Homer Hickam. It’s a quick read with an intriguing, albiet often-times predictable story, set on the North Carolina coast during the beginning of the US involvement in World War II. Its particular focus is on the engagement between the ill-equipped Coast Guard and unprepared local population with the German submarines sinking maritime traffic off the eastern seaboard.

One of the characters is the Preacher, who in coming to live with and experience the trials of a community supported by fishing and the sea looses his faith, a bitter transition the reader witnesses along with the characters. During a critical point in the story he ends up manning the machine gun on the 68-foot Coast Guard patrol boat and during a sea battle is mortally wounded.

As he expires and as his friends and members of the crew, one by one, say their goodbyes to him, someone places a Bible in his hand. His thoughts go like this:
By then, Preacher was considering all the words in the Bible, how they simply lay there, and depending on how you read them, they might say anything you wanted them to say. They could be read right to left, or up and down like the Chinese did, or perhaps in three dimension, through the book rather than on each page. (304)
It’s impossible to know if Preacher has his faith back by the time he draws his last breath. It doesn’t sound like it. What I do know is that his friends, those same folks who watched his faith falter and him fall into questioning despair, tried their best to carry faith for him, to carry him in the faith, when he couldn’t do it for himself.

I also know, without being privy to any details whatsoever, that Wilma Rose and Harry over the courses of their lives did that same thing for countless others suffering the depths of doubt, and not only at the time of death but especially through the daily struggle of life.

Rest in peace, friends.

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