Archive for July 25th, 2008

Balm or Placebo?

I came across this story in the New York Times today, about Katie Reider, a young, up-and-coming singer  struck down by a terrible and apparently rare form of cancer. She left behind a partner, two kids, a best friend and a brother. She was a young woman of faith, a Christian, who, according to the story, did not seem to have a moment of doubt that she was loved by God. While the piece was poignant, what struck me most was the following:

“You can pick out the lessons you want from their story. About faith — as balm or as placebo.”

That is the battle it seems to me that any person of any faith must struggle with. I know I do, on an almost daily basis. It’s like dancing on a tightrope, balancing one’s belief in God with one’s daily reality. Sometimes I fall off the tightrope on the side of balm, and sometimes – perhaps more often that not – I fall on the side of placebo. But it is because I am intrigued by the tension and challenged by the choice that I keep doing what I do – both professionally (writing about people’s faith) and personally (exploring my own).

The young woman’s brother, who lost both his sister and his mother to cancer in a short time as well as a young child, echoed how I most often feel, I think:

“What I would have believed five years ago about God and faith is very different from what I believe now,” he said. “Christians are always throwing around lines about how God is good, God is good all the time, and my take on that is, if that’s true, God’s definition of good is very different than mine. I’m still trying to work it out.”

I am sad for this man, that he lost so much, but I am glad to read that he is still trying to work it out. That, it seems to me, is the key to surviving. The minute you are sure of something – certain you have God or anything else you may believe in pinned down – that, it seems to me, is when you are on the shakiest ground.

Balm or placebo?  I am not certain – and I think I never will be.


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