Faith, God and Family: What’s It All About, Alfie?


That song replays and replays, What’s It All about Alfie

By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
As of late, I keep hearing songs repeat in my head, Dionne Warwick’s “What’s It All about Alfie” and Julie Andrews singing “Crazy World” from Victor Victoria. It’s quite a change from the usual Italian and Wagnerian arias.

In September, Mother Teresa was elevated to sainthood despite her major doubts about God. A friend asked how to be supportive of someone living a closeted life and whether to bring it up. Personally, I’m finding myself very restless in overtaxed, politically corrupt, and extraordinarily expensive New York (yes, even in upstate).

As time passes, I increasingly believe there is such a thing as fate. Things happen and don’t for a reason. Freedom of choice is overrated. Yes, we do have limited ability to make decisions in whether we react or respond to events occurring in our lives. I’m still learning to work with the wind as it blows at my back instead of pushing against it.

Sometimes the best laid plans are derailed. There’s also a Jewish proverb about what a man or woman may want for himself or herself and God laughs. It may not be in keeping with the Creator’s grand design or lack thereof. In realizing the universe unfolds as it will, I reluctantly accept I’ve been assigned a role. I still haven’t quite figured out what it might be in the grand drama of life.

I’ve also discerned the need to better combine all my accumulating experiences as if they’re ingredients in a recipe. Life becomes a bit like baking bread or a slow simmering red sauce on the stove. Each event is an ingredient that needs to be mixed with the others. This is complemented by learning from the experiences of others.

A friend recently asked about someone who she had known for many years. He’s a single man with multiple gay friends who has never been known to date women. Should she say something to show support? No. The issue shouldn’t be forced. Whatever sojourn he’s on, this gent needs to figure it out. Life remains a very personal journey. Maybe he’s asexual. Better to be an observer with a supportive presence than a good intentioned busy body. Now I’m thinking of a Beatles tune, “Let It Be”.

Last month I shared with a LGBTQ-friendly Catholic colleague a story about Mother Teresa’s darkness of the soul at the time of her elevation to sainthood. Her letters show a woman who despite deep devotion often felt alone, isolated, and abandoned by the Giver of Life. She didn’t feel the presence of a holy supreme being for large stretches of her life. Mother Teresa often felt unloved, unwanted, and spiritually empty. She may have ended her life having faith, but not experiencing the presence of God to feed her spiritual hunger.

This rattled my Catholic colleague. I admitted to him it would be easy for me, a clergyman, to be an atheist or humanist. My admission also unsettled him. There are support groups for recovering clergy. These men and women don’t become anti-God it’s just that they no longer have belief in a supreme being.

In other cases, someone who experiences the darkness of the soul may emerge with a deeper faith with a universal, almost cosmological, spiritually-macro perspective. Faith and devotion can evolve into something deeply mystical, spiritual, and undefinable that is holy and transcendent. Faith should never be blindly accepted. Inner restlessness is often very unpleasant, but sometimes a necessity for growth.

Our everyday experiences, some simple and others major, and as attentive observers to the events in the lives of others known to us personally or who we observe from afar, offer rich perspective to draw on. What’s it all about, Alfie? What we make of it in each day in what can only be called a crazy world filled with crazy contradictions.

*Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and attorney in greater Albany, NY. He is author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”


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