My Struggle with Faith (Joseph Girzone) – Review Part 1.
When I read books I take notes. Usually I take these notes on my computer – so that I can search through them at a later time – when I want them for something I am writing or a sermon I am preparing. When a book is especially filled with interesting or noteworthy material I end up taking a pen to it – b/c I am too impatient to write all the entries while reading into my computer…then I’ll go back later and put the notes into the computer (or at least so I tell myself…sometimes it doesn’t happen). On rare occasions there are books that are so filled with wisdom that I almost end up underlining the entire volume. Girzone’s book falls high on this scale.
Over a number of upcoming posts I’m going to delve piece by piece into Girzone’s My Struggle with Faith, an autobiographical and gently polemical explanation of his theological understanding. I want to take this as an opportunity to both laud the highpoints of the book as well as note some areas of disagreement which my personal theology reflects with Girzone, and specifically where those disagreements reflect the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism.
For those who are not familiar with Girzone, he was a Catholic priest who after retiring began writing books about a man named Joshua – a modern day Jesus – and how this man interacted with the church as well as the rest of the world. They are beautifully and powerfully written and enjoyed by both Protestants and Catholics.
Girzone writes his book in a somewhat unique unfolding manner that follows him through his personal ventures with faith and reveals bit by bit what he learned with age and struggle. As such, one feels much as a co-traveler throughout much of this extremely readable and yet profound book. Lets begin just with the introduction and opening chapter today…
Only two pages long rather than explain I will simply quote a key portion of this note:
“Belief itself is not simple. It is not a single conviction or idea. It is a complex network of convictions that subconsciously evolves over a lifetime into what becomes our philosophy of life, and the engine that drives us, and in the process transforms all our relationships with God and all God’s creatures.” (pg. xi)
Chapter 1. Is There a God?
Girzone shares how in childhood he had a deep and experiential faith and was a model follower of Christ. But as he progressed in age he found himself questioning:
“My problem was the guilt I felt in questioning what I had been taught. But then I began to realize that I was not being disloyal; I was just trying to understand. My next question was: Am I losing my faith? I knew that my faith was still strong, but I had a need to understand why I believed. And that did not mean that I was losing my faith.” (pg. 2)
He went off to seminary at the young age (to me) of fourteen and notes that during the first year experientially his relationship with God was amazing but that during his sophomore year, “I could no longer feel God’s presence. I could no longer feel the love of Jesus in Communion. My heart had turned cold and empty. I became depressed and frightened.” (pg. 3)
Girzone throughout this chapter reflects heavily upon the deadness of his emotional/experiential relationship with God – something which I can identify with during significant portions of my life…I sometimes ponder if I have been destined in part to repeated Dark Nights of the Soul (St. John of the Cross).
Girzone reports, “…it all left me cold…could not pray. It was a drudge. It was without feeling or comfort.” (pg. 3) I love how he reflects on Moses leading forth the Israelites from Egypt – so many hundreds of thousands of people – and how this was depressing rather than relieving to him. I have echoed this fear of success or calling in my own life.
He powerfully describes his continuing struggle on page 5, “At night I would slip down to the chapel and, in the darkness and emptiness, hope I would find God again. It didn’t happen. I just sat there dumb and broken. Gradually a deep depression drifted through my being like a heavy fog that settles on a mountainside and obliterates all reality of the village below. The spirit world was now deeply lost in that fog, and all the joy and comfort it used to bring me.” Haha, I apologize if I focus on this too much – but these passages struck such a resounding echo in my own life.
In the midst of all this Girzone never doubted that he was called to be a priest, even though at his ordination he was still suffering from doubts – more than ten years later! Yet Girzone also notes that all was not empty. While the feelings were not present the growth in knowledge and grace was present, “even though I no longer had the emotional sense of God’s presence, that presence was revealing itself in a much deeper way and at a higher level than mere emotion, as if God was leading me somewhere that was unfamiliar…” (pp. 6-7)
It is at this juncture that we get the first hints that Girzone will not be the ideal image of the religiously and politically conservative priest. He argues strongly against capital punishment and suggests it is worse than murder (pg. 7) and he begins for the first time to begin offering insight into the resolutions to some of his questions of faith – particularly how his observations of the complexity of nature and the reality of the universe inspired his belief in God. I think both arguments are fairly strong – and powerful when you read them in the context.
So far it is a great read – I recommend it. 🙂 I’ll unfold my perceptions as we work through the book – much as Girzone unfolded his – allowing the complete thought to be slowly unfurled.