Journeying with Doubt

Feb 28 / Lisa Graham McMinn
I am grateful for the faith of my childhood, which came officially at the tender age of five. I took comfort in knowing what my parents expected of me, Sunday School, God. I belonged to a church community where adults knew my name and looked out for me. In times of fear, I found comfort in Psalms and hymns and verses I memorized as part of the Pioneer Girls club I attended on Monday nights.

At some point in adolescence my Dad’s answers to questions about dress length, pierced ears and school dances started fraying the edges of my faith. In early adulthood, answers to questions about heaven and hell and being “elect” or “damned” unraveled it further. Later still questions about racial and economic equality, US involvement in wars of politics, and the challenges of scientific discovery around evolution made my faith downright threadbare. My faith had antique value, but I didn’t want to handle it overly much for fear it would disintegrate entirely in my hands.

I attribute studying sociology in graduate school in my early 30s as the primary push for that final battering. I looked at my beliefs through a social construction lens and found religion lacking. It didn’t solve hard questions about suffering, the great chasm between the rich and the poor, and attempted answers to them seemed “iffy.” Mostly it seemed as though religion had served political ends throughout history.

I remember the day I dropped our girls off at school and headed for the beach with the goal of determining what I might still believe to be true. I walked the beaches, wondering if the ocean’s thundering might hold the voice of God. I journaled in a coffee shop and wondered if Jesus was divine or merely a very good teacher and human being. Over a cup of clam chowder, I questioned the notion of God.

While my journey lasted longer than that day and was preceded by years of living with doubt and questions (including guilt about my doubt and questions), that day I claimed two pieces. They were enough to rebuild a faith that I could hold and journey with questions, even if I couldn’t answer them. In my journal I asserted that creation itself gave me enough evidence for a Creator who existed outside of it, and that a Creator had to be defined primarily by Love to create a world that kept giving, flourishing and moving forward even given significant setbacks.

Those declarations developed over the years. At this point I see God’s love infused in all that goes right (and so much goes right) and present in all that goes wrong. God is in the turnings and cycles required for life to continue generation after generation--even though death is required for life to continue. Dying trees became the seed bed for new ones, everything lives by eating things that once lived.

I am on a journey still, of course I am, and comfortable holding unknowns as mystery. “Mystery” is not a poor excuse for not having the answer to a thing, but an invitation to wonderment. The impossibility of ever arriving with a tablet full of the right answers gives me freedom and is rather exhilarating. Quests can be simply arduous or also enlivening and breathtaking, depending somewhat on what one holds as the goal. What if the goal is to walk our journey well, knowing it will hold paradox, perplexity, and pain? Perhaps the more simple goal to walk well, allows us to journey with open anticipation. We can listen for an echo to follow around the bend, faint footsteps to track through the woods, a guiding light that shows us just enough for the next steps. Sure, we’ll get lost, and feel stranded, but never permanently.

Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet and novelist, is best known for his posthumous collection of writings titled Letters to a Young Poet. Born in 1875, Rilke died of leukemia when only 51 years old. This excerpt from those letters has been a hope and inspiration:

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing, live your way into the answer…”

If this sort of journey feels like an invitation or resonants with you, join me and a few others in a Companioning Center course called, Holding the Questions. We’ll explore the important role of doubt, and ways to hold our questions so we might journey well and long with them, perhaps someday recognizing that we are living our way into an answer.

Lisa Graham McMinn

Lisa relishes time meandering the woods and tending goats, hens, and gardens. When she’s not outside she's listening to the nudges of God with one of her spiritual directees, or supervisees, reading, writing, or making goat-milk soap. Lisa is a contemplative Quaker who seeks to see each storied life as part of a bigger story—all of them held together by God. She and her husband live on Fern Creek, a small farm a few miles outside of Newberg, Oregon and attend North Valley Friends Meeting in Newberg. More information about her work, blog posts, and contact information can be found at