OF ALL THINGS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE
When Melanie first emailed me and asked if I’d be willing to write a post for her series on the Nicene Creed, I immediately knew which phrase I would pick, if it were available. “Of all things visible and invisible” has captured my imagination since the first time I heard the Nicene Creed, in a Bible class on comparative religions in my Presbyterian high school. I imagined that my post would mirror what my imagination has always conjured up around this phrase. It would be airy, ethereal, and would encompass that mystical spiritual world of angels, demons, and saints. It would unveil for my readers the unseen battle that rages all around us, and explore how our visible, human actions correspond to the unseen realm.
I was a little worried about the timing, since I knew my newest son would only be six weeks old when my post was up, but I was so smitten with the nebulous shape my unwritten post had taken in my imagination that I threw caution to the wind and committed myself to writing the post, post-partum woes be damned.
Last week Melanie emailed me to remind me about the post and ask if I wanted to pass on it. I was sorely tempted. My can-do attitude from the end of my pregnancy vanished in the face of a cascade of post-partum difficulties, all eclipsed by that most dreaded affliction, post-partum depression. I’m no stranger to post-partum depression. I’ve wrestled with it after every child save one. But I’m never prepared for how utterly soul-crushing it can be. Sometimes it just makes life seem a little dreary, bland and colorless. Sometimes it makes getting out of bed hard, harder, and nigh impossible. Sometimes it makes even the smallest task, like unloading the dishwasher, seem insurmountable. Sometimes it reduces me to tears, day after endless day. But this time it’s taken a bit of a different form. This time, all that I once held dear, that knew for sure, that I took on faith, that I believed in, all of that seems…invisible. Vanished.
God seems lost to me. I feel like I’m praying to a void, and I’m having trouble convincing myself that I ever felt otherwise. Hope, faith, belief, they all seem to have slipped out of my grasp, in such a way that I can’t remember what life was like when things were different. I look at my children, all conceived through the mysterious non-workings of NFP, and I love them, but I wonder, “why am I doing this? Why am I following these teachings, why do I believe these things?” I can’t remember the faith and conviction I once had, and worst of all, I don’t really care much anymore. I’ve skipped Mass on several Sundays, telling the Ogre that I don’t feel well enough to go, that the baby is too cranky, that I’m still post-partum so I get a dispensation, when really I just don’t care. It seems unimportant and irrelevant, God and Christ and praying and all that. None of it seems to have any connection to my life, nor does any of it seem real to me anymore. It’s all just invisible.
But following the strictures of the Church, the wishes of my husband, and plain old habit, we had Lincoln baptized two weekends ago. Baptisms take place in a church, and usually after a Mass, so I bit the bullet and went.
For the first time ever, all three of our mobile children were still, quiet and well-behaved in Mass. Lincoln slept soundly in the sling. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their children came to visit for the baptism, to be Lincoln’s godparents, and they sat at one end of our collective gaggle of children while the Ogre and I sat at the other. My husband held my hand while I looked up at the huge crucifix in the Oratory and listened to the Gospel reading about Bartimaeus:
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.
I wish I could say that I had some thunder-clap moment of inspiration, that Christ handed me my faith back as surely as he returned Bartimaeus’s sight, but I didn’t. I just looked at the crucifix, at God dying on a tree, eternally suffering for us and with us, and thought, well, what does it matter, what I feel? What does it matter, how things seem to me right now? I might not be able to see beauty or the truth of our faith right now. It might indeed be hidden from me. But just because it is invisible does not make it any less real, nor does it lessen my duty to it. Like Christ on the cross, I might feel abandoned right now, like God has turned his face from me. But that doesn’t mean I can hop down off the cross and say, “forget this.”
Instead, I’ve spent the last week doing some spiritual reading, even though I didn’t want to. Because I didn’t want to. I’ve prayed more, even though it feels like no one’s listening. I’ve made a point of saying a prayer with the kids before bed, even though I’d rather skip it and just send them on their way so I can get down to some serious TV-watching. I’ve dusted off my Creighton manual, heaved an enormously martyred sigh, and prepared myself to do battle with NFP again. And when I’ve been tempted to say, “forget this,” I’ve made myself go and stand in front of the crucifix that hangs over our front door. When I’m face-to-face with Christ on the cross, I just can’t bring myself to say those words.
It’s times like these when I am so grateful for how very visible the Catholic faith is. Ours is not the faith of a bare, clean, proper cross, hanging on a wall. Ours is a faith of a dying God-man, bloody and torn, hanging dreadfully from all the crosses in our churches and our homes, eternally suffering with us. Ours is the faith of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. Not symbolic crackers and grape juice but Christ’s actual body and blood, broken for us a thousand times over so that we can see, touch, and taste his love and grace. Ours is the faith of the saints, pictured everywhere in statue and image, to remind us of what we ought to be. Ours is the faith of the Virgin Queen, whose arms are always open, always ready to give succor and relief, even when we may not feel it. Our faith is visible, so visible. It’s visible because we need it to be so. We can’t see the spiritual realm with our physical eyes. We can’t see God, Christ, Mary, the saints and angels and demons. Sometimes we can feel them, but sometimes we can’t, and that’s why Christ gave us a Church so tied to the visible, the tangible, the physical and the human. Because we are human and we need to see. We need to see so that even when having faith seems impossible and we feel utterly abandoned, we are reminded of Christ on the cross, and how he stayed and suffered the same, and so much more, for our sake. So that even in what seems like the darkest night, we are never alone, and never without sight.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “of all things visible and invisible”?
Calah Alexander is very effusive and fairly emotionally unstable. “Cheerful with a side of crazy.” She loves Salman Rushdie, science fiction, Richard Wilbur, T.S. Eliot, cooking, wine, Doctor Who, and the Ogre. In reverse order. She has a bachelor’s and half a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Dallas. She dabbles in poetry, makes the occasional piece of jewelry, and tries to remember to turn the oven off. “Being a wife and mother was not my plan for my life, so it’s a really good thing I’m not the one in charge.” She likes sappy romantic comedies, the glorious wonder of television, tea with sugar and cream, unadulterated chocolate, all cheese except Brie, martinis, rollerblading and dancing in the living room with her four kids. She blogs at Barefoot and Pregnant.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.