Lately I’ve been thinking about faith. It’s hard not to when this winter has built itself so tightly around us, with record-breaking cold (-36 with the wind chill today) and a lot of snow for our place in the world.

The other night, though, I had a dream that the red-winged blackbirds had returned. I felt elated, excited, seeing those bright red epaulets on their glossy wings, hearing their distinctive song.

Faith is the antidote to doubt, writes meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein. It is the willing suspension of disbelief.

How can a writer not love this concept? The clever expansion of a literary term first coined by the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817, referring to the reader’s willingness to accept deviation from reality in order to appreciate an imaginary world.

What is more imaginary than dreaming a summer bird back from the swamplands of Florida, into this stark, white terrain.

Fiction, I’ve come to understand, is actually truth.

And faith, I’ve realized, isn’t trickery.

Convincing ourselves that life is something it isn’t by repeating affirmations over and over again into the mirror like a spell or leaning on new age platitudes isn’t faith, in my opinion.

Rather, this seems more like delusion.

“This suspension is never total,” reads my New York Public Library Literary Companion. “Only a disturbed person would confuse Laurence Olivier, the actor, with Hamlet, the character, but it is sufficient to make theatregoing [and reading] an enjoyable experience.”

Faith is seeing what’s on the stage and understanding that we don’t know how the story will unfold. It’s a balancing act between recognizing what is and being open to what we don’t yet see…

It’s the lesson of the seasons, of the earth, as the late, great Mary Oliver (1935-Jan 2019) explains in Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith (do follow the link to read the whole gorgeous poem).

… let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

 *   *   *

Maybe spring won’t arrive.

Maybe, as in Doris Lessing’s The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (or some odds-defying blockbuster movie with great effects and a terrible story) we’ll find ourselves plunged into an ice age.

What will happen then?

The story will continue.

Let the immeasurable come. 

Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.

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