In “Singing to Jesus with Eyes Closed,” a ‘confession’ published recently over at Killing the Buddha, author and UC Berkeley professor Kaya Oakes offers a personal, meditative piece on her own struggles with being a public witness of faith.
Faith is shame. It’s the shame of seeing those closed-eyed Evangelicals being enraptured by a God who knows them better than any human could. It’s the shame of Bernini’s Saint Theresa in Ecstasy, a statue of such violently erotic and intimate nature I’m shocked, when I travel to Rome on a DIY pilgrimage, to see it displayed in a church. Faith is the shame of Holy Thursday, when everyone around me gets up to wash a stranger’s feet, and I am too paralyzed with hypochondria to move.
Oakes also reclaims the shame of the cross as the most exhaustive expression of the Christian faith. Those who think faith is a crutch, safety net, security blanket, or just a poor excuse for not living in the “real world” have yet to taste the demands of the cross, a sign that both believers and nonbelievers hate to love and love to hate.
Faith is being willing to stand on the place where Mario Savio stood and told us to throw our bodies on the gears of the machine and to sing, instead, about a rogue Palestinian Jew who stood singing with the despised and marginalized and then threw his body onto a primitive implement of torture in order to upend the social order. And that is something I cannot do.
Faith, she contends, is not about clarity or certainty. It’s not about an unshakable, sterile confidence. It’s about the choice to stay despite the total freedom to turn away. In this sense, faith is a type of weakness or passivity, a complete and humble resignation to the power of God’s Spirit.
Sometimes I sing this, very, very quietly, as I walk to class. I sing it so quietly it is just a suggestion. Veni Sancti Spiritus. I sing it on airplanes as I’m traveling to read from a book I wrote about Catholicism, a book that I told no one about until it was just about to be published, a book I wrote secretly, under my breath, a book that comes into the world as a faint sound. Veni Sancti Spiritus. I sing it with my eyes always open.