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Thomas: patron saint of skeptics and doubters

Thomas: patron saint of skeptics and doubters

By Ann Fontaine

On the Second Sunday of Easter, the church once again hears the story of Thomas, called the Twin, who is out and about while the others are hiding in fear. He misses Jesus’ visit and wants proof that Jesus is alive. He wants to see the wounds for himself. Once he sees the torn flesh, he not only states this is “my Lord” – he is the first one to say this is “my God.” No longer teacher or messiah or healer or friend, but God.

All through my life I have wandered in and out of belief. As a child I had a sure faith. Then, like many I drifted away. Periodically I would attend church, get very involved and then move away from it all. Sometimes, even when involved, I would have long times of non-belief. Like Thomas, I was out and about. The community continued, but I was not really there. Whether physically or emotionally – I was away from what I thought every one else was so sure about.

Three events changed my life for me. The first was a dean of a cathedral who responded to my question about having doubts with a hearty laugh, saying “Oh, everyone has doubts. Doubts are a good thing.” What a relief. I could let go of worrying about all the questions I had and my inability to make sense of the inconsistencies in the Bible.

The second was a workshop – I was sitting in a circle with others and reflecting on a reading I had just heard. Before that moment I always felt outside the circle of believers and faith – but suddenly I felt “in.” There was no change in my believing or not believing, but the door had been opened and I fell through.

The third was being really sick – sick unto death as they say. My immune system was turning the little muscles in my lungs to scar tissue. In that time, many people from all sorts of faiths, were praying for me. In fact, the church was not there for me in that time, only one friend from the church kept in touch. But in that time I felt I was part of a web of life that went beyond time and space, life and death. I could feel it – it held me.

I touched something that was beyond the need for belief. This is what I see in Thomas. He has always been loyal to Jesus – each of his appearances show that. He volunteers to go die in the story of Lazarus, is mystified by Jesus teaching about the “way”, and in this week’s reading, he asks for proof. When he sees the wounds he recognizes God. I am not sure he had to touch – though most art shows him putting his fingers in the wounds.

Is there something about woundedness that reveals the Holy? Is there something about the community that offers a taste of that which is beyond our knowing? Is there a place beyond believing where it does not matter any more – a knowing that is not contained in all the words and rituals though they are part of the path?

Where do you encounter “My Lord and My God”?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar,St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, Manzanita OR, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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Donald Schell

Ann,

Thanks for the elegant storytelling of something that matters so much to us. I was just telling someone my hunch that the Episcopal Church has more churches dedicated to St. Thomas than probably anyone but the Mar Thoma in India (because their tradition is that Thomas was their pioneering evangelist. Understanding the spiritual value of doubt has been a steady gift of the Episcopal Church. I’m grateful for it. My RC theologian friend James Alison identifies doubt as a necessary tool or practice of faith. If faith is living into our trust, the testing of where to place that trust is essential to the quality of the trust – like placing our feet carefully when we’re walking through a half-constructed building. Demanding blind faith, making an idol of credulity, it the gesture of cult leaders. The tragedy of a Jonestown mass-suicide is a consequence of training people for a faith that doesn’t challenge, test, or ask discerning questions of when and how to trust.

Richard E. Helmer

Wonderful, Ann. Thank you for this inspiring piece and your gracious witness!

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