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The Thin Place Where God Lives

By Nora Gallagher

UTNE Reader January-February 1999, pp.29-31.

Nora Gallagher tells of her journey of faith in this excerpt from an essay entitled From Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith. She gives accounts of her struggle between faith in God and understanding some of the terrible things that happen in the world. She describes this struggle as "the thin place where God lives." Married to a non-Christian, Gallagher's husband challenges her faith by citing examples around the world of genocide and suffering. He states "If religious faith cannot stop genocide, of what use is it?" Uninspired by the decline of the number of church members and the unenthusiastic participation in worship, Gallagher examined the issue of doubt. "And thus I doubt. Doubt is the handmaiden to faith, its cop, and the one that keeps faith straight. To doubt is an indication of freedom and a guard against fanaticism."

Determined to resolve the struggle within, Gallagher decided to take an active part in her church community. She described her feelings as she began to get more involved. "I was often frustrated, disconcerted, and even disoriented, but I was also waking unto myself." "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow, wrote the poet Theodore Roethke. " I learn by going where I have to go."

The understanding and resolve between her faith and "the world" came in a most unexpected way. Her friend was dying of cancer and asked her to help him by " holding his hand" through his illness and death. It was a very trying and painful time. In the midst of this she "learned something about faith, its mucky nature, how it lies down in the mud with the pigs and the rabble." She was convinced she could not have made it through her friend's death without God. She learned about community: that being faithful to God means being faithful to others, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.

As Gallaghers's story ended, she reported that her brother has just been diagnosed with cancer. She shared the news of her brother with another cancer patient from her church who exclaimed, "There will always be someone who inspires hope." Gallagher returned to what she terms "the thin space, where God lives" in hope that her faith would give her strength.

Gallagher's account moved me deeply and made me wonder if all people at one time or another struggle with the issue of faith. At times it is so difficult to listen to the news of all of the terrible things that are happening in the world and understand "why" and "how" these things could go on. Far removed from much of the worldly tragedies, many people in this community must deal with their own issues of illness and death or other hardship.

I admired Gallaghers's determination to find and answer that would bring some peace and understanding within herself, instead of blaming and turning away from God. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was 17 years old and died six months later. Nothing in my life has affected me more that dealing with the issues surrounding her illness and death. It wrenched me from my complacency and forced me to take a long hard look at life, faith and God. I too, came to the conclusion that choosing to do something in my life that helped others was the only way I could live peacefully. When I go to work everyday and look at the bright young faces of my first graders, I am reminded of a quote by and anonymous author, "It is amazing that those who are so fresh from God, love us." When I'm feeling frustrated or angry with a student, or simply tired and burned out, I try to regroup and take another look at the child. I keep in mind all of the trust that child has in me, and push through my feelings to give that child my best. It isn't always that easy, but I will continue to do my best, keeping in mind the faith that pushes me ahead.

The teachers I work with all have an incredible respect for children. Their internal values shine through in how they teach and strive provide the best education for their students. In discussing this article with some of them, it opened up a personal discussion of faith and values. Each of them has had their own experiences and struggles with faith. One commonality among them was that they considered faith a continuous journey. All of them feel that their faith is a strength in dealing with many of the struggles within the teaching field.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 1999

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