On doubt, inquiry and embodied Love

By: The Rev. Gwenda Wells, Montreal Dio board member

De mon expérience d’agente de soins spirituels à l’Hôpital neurologique, je réfléchi sur le doute comme élément vital de la foi.  L’observation raisonnée peut nous permettre de toucher la présence de Dieu-e dans son œuvre et agir pour le bien. Science et foi se complémentent.

‘This also is thou, neither is this thou’ wrote CS Lewis in Letters to Malcolm, a set of epistles to an imaginary friend. In them, he ponders how God is present in creation, while at the same time being utterly Other.

All creatures, from the angel to the atom, are other than God; with an otherness to which there is no parallel: incommensurable. The very word ‘to be’ cannot be applied to Him and to them in exactly the same sense. But also, no creature is other than He in the same way in which it is other than all the rest. He is in it as they can never be in one another, [in] each of them as the ground and root and of continual supply of its reality.

Through history, Christian thinkers have investigated what and who God is, and what that means for all that exists. The methods of philosophy informed them, as did the detailed observations of the natural order in the Hebrew Bible. From earliest centuries, faithful scholars considered how that Being was present and knowable in the created order. For some, at least, this was not just a matter of speculation, but included empirical experimentation. The polymath Hildegard of Bingen carefully observed the order of things, from what we might call atmospheric science to life sciences and pharmacology. Albert the Great, mentor to Thomas Aquinas, warned those who study the natural world never to cop out and attribute the working of things to mere demonstrations of divine power.Only experience verifies in such matters’. Always, there was wonder in their discoveries, wonder based on the closest observation, and leading to instruction and practical, compassionate applications.

Centuries later (1941), in protest against the weaponizing of science, Pope Pius XII named Albert the Patron Saint of Scientists. (1)  I’d like to suggest a much earlier saint to keep him company, particularly with respect to health sciences: Thomas, too easily written off as ‘the Doubter’. Having heard of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas remains unconvinced until he has placed his hand in the body of his brutally wounded teacher: ‘Unless I … put my hand in his side, I will not believe’. Jesus invites him to touch him, and Thomas believes, heartstruck. Paul Tillich once wrote: Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.

I wish we had that resurrection story also from the perspective of St Luke, ‘the beloved physician’.  I work up the hill at the Neurological Hospital. One morning, during multidisciplinary rounds, the attending doctor for an elderly man recovering from a stroke wondered what it was realistic to hope for in his case. The physiotherapist asserted: ‘From the moment I walk into his room, that man gives me everything he has got’ She had hands-on, experiential evidence of a man reaching out for life. He was deemed a candidate for full rehab.  St Thomas, patron of clinical practitioners, guide us this day…

We are called to embodied faith. Like Thomas, Hildegard and Albert, we base our hope not on abstract generalities, but on the evidence of our senses directed by Love.

This message was written by The Rev. Gwenda Wells for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.

  1. Jonathan Jong, St Albert the Great: Patron Saint of Scientists; website, St Mary Magdalen School of Theology, Oxford