I Believe…Help Thou My Unbelief

I believe, help thou my unbelief
I take the finite risk of trusting like a child
I believe, help thou my unbelief
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while.

These lyrics are from one of so many hymns and worship songs from perhaps the most prolific hymnist of this or many a generation, Bill Gaither, whom along with his wife Gloria, has given voice through music to faith in our time.

There can be no doubt that the writer (Bill) never intended for this one song of his, I believe, help thou my unbelief, to be a song for the holiday season. Nonetheless, in this holiday season of 2022, it speaks to me …. in this season where there should be so much joy, so many blessings, family all around (along with all the presents they bring), good food … good tidings to all.

I long so much
to feel the warmth that others seem to know
but should I never feel a thing, I claim him even so
I believe, help thou my unbelief
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while.

In the midst of what is supposed to be joy and light in a holiday season, there is the stark reality of what really is … war, division, racism, injustice, inequity, food insecurity (how we cloak for our own sake perhaps the reality of what it really means to be hungry and to feel hunger in more measured and acceptable terms for us), loneliness, emptiness, disconnection — in this time and place where it seems more difficult than even in previous hard times to take that finite risk of trusting like a child.

He tells us in his lyrics, this man whose songs are the psalms of our times, he reminds us of what Quakers accept as part of who we are—even in our believing, there are times when we must accept our own unbelief. Oh, for those sweet days of innocent childhood, those times when we walked into the unknown still believing that a little being with wings could float into our bedroom as we were sleeping and slip out the tooth placed under a pillow and leave behind a quarter, or, for the very lucky, perhaps even more. What sweet innocence, what level of belief, never wondering for a moment about those little beings with beating wings and what in the world they would do with the mountains of small little teeth they accumulated on their nightly rounds.

Oh, for the unquestioning belief in a big bunny with floppy ears responsible for colored eggs and marshmallow bunnies and chicks, all the chocolate you could ever dream about, all filling a little basket, never questioning how a rabbit might possibly boil and color all those eggs and just what rabbit was really that fond of all that chocolate.

And those who believed in (and those little ones who still do believe in) what should be part of the most joyous of seasons—that there is a jolly man in a red suit and long flowing white hair and beard who can fly through one night with a sleigh led by flying reindeer, a sleigh full of toys to be given out to every good boy and girl, never thinking about what message it must send to those good little boys and girls where there are no presents on Christmas morning, perhaps only a plate of unsalted dumplings to see them through to a better day—never knowing that even those good little boys and those good little girls—with no presents to unwrap and with their plates of unsalted dumplings—even they still believe there is a Santa Claus and that reindeer really do know how to fly.

I take the finite risk of trusting like a child. What of those of us, our childhood innocence and beliefs long behind us, when it comes to the ‘real’ things of the world—war and racism—good and evil—justice and injustice—have and have not—belief and unbelief—how do we trust in our faith as deeply and as purely as children believe in the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus?

How does a virgin give birth to a child? How does a man die to live again? How do we sing of peace on earth as we build and profit from weapons of war? How do we believe that good will overcome evil when evil never seems to face justice? How can we walk in the truth when the truth is now lies and lies are now truth? How do we love one another when we wound one another? How do we believe when in the deepest part of our being there is that place where we are filled with unbelief? Is there really a heaven? And what do we care for streets paved with gold if that is what heaven is?

I believe, help thou my unbelief
I take the finite risk of trusting like a child.

I believe because I have heard the music, Bill and Gloria Gaither’s music, the Williams Family, Simon and Garfunkel, Bach, Bocelli, Broadway, the Beatles. I believe because there is more than enough food to take the place of unsalted dumplings … because children still believe in tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, the jolly old man and reindeer that really do know how to fly. I believe that children know about fully and purely believing in that which seems unbelievable. I believe in children.

I believe because I have walked beside the smallest of brooks, leaf strewn in the fall, barefoot, with the innocence of childhood, and found there, although I could not name it, a presence in the midst. I have no longing for nor need for streets paved with gold because once upon a childhood there were walks in the woods along the smallest of brooks with sunlight radiating through the trees.

I believe because in the midst of Quaker worship, although, selfish that I am, not often enough, we have become a gathered meeting. In the stillness something or someone has filled the space. In my human failings, there are no words to describe it. Some may say God, Jesus, an angel, a spirit, a presence in the midst.

We all come to these experiences with our own vocabulary. I only know something has happened, has made of us one community, one heart …. one. Something has filled the space—the space in the room—more importantly, the space in my unbelief.

In those rare beloved gathered moments, I have taken the finite risk of trusting like a child and because of that I walk into the unknown trusting all the while.

And what then of Heaven? Perhaps Heaven is a little brook of a long ago childhood where once there was such a presence that no language could equal it, where a child could believe reindeer really do know how to fly while knowing that presence. In my unbelief, I believe.

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  1. Ray Geers | | Reply

    Thanks Judy. Your reflection touched me and helped me to revisit what it means to believe and trust. Also, thank you for bringing a little music and song into our Quaker appreciation of life. It just goes to show that simple words can still be profound words, as in a gospel song, and simple harmonies can open up those areas of us that otherwise remain closed. Good to hear from you how you struggle with our problematic world without losing your child-like, but also time-tested, faith.

  2. Vicki Culler | | Reply

    Judy, this moved me deeply. Thank you.

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