This morning, over at the Wandering Views blog, Modesty Press posted a link to “Dover Beach,” a poem by Matthew Arnold describing the retreat of faith from modern society. I wrote a paper analyzing that poem for a UConn literature class I took in high school (our school had a cooperative program with UConn), and I remember thinking a lot about the metaphor of faith like a tide than had gone out.
Several years later, I was sitting in church one morning, and the thought came to me that the tide was a very apt metaphor for faith. Unlike Arnold, who seems to see that particular tide as having gone out for good, I see the tide of faith as cyclical, like the tides of the oceans.
It is normal, I think, for faith to ebb and flow as we go through life. What we understand of God and our place in life is never complete (in this life, anyway). Circumstances force us to discover the inadequacies of our views. But if our faith is truly in God rather than in what we believe about God, then our understanding continues to grow and develop, and faith returns, fuller than before.
Until more changes start the cycle again…
I went home after church and started writing a poem expressing those thoughts. I don’t remember whether I was consciously thinking of it as a response to “Dover Beach” at the time or not. It took me two days to come up with a poem that I was happy with – though I’m sure it falls very far short of Arnold’s poem in terms of literary merit.
I can’t find my copy of what I wrote, and I’m not sure of a couple of words. But it’s my poem, so I’m entitled to change it if I like. 🙂 So here, as best as I can remember it, is my view of faith being like the tide.
Faith, like the tide, ebbs in and out.Receding, faith gives way to doubt,
Till doubt, in turn, gives way, and then
Faith, like the tide, comes in again.
Some may bemoan the ebbing tide
That leaves our doubts no place to hide,
But I hold hope that still once more
New waves of faith will reach the shore.
So when the tide of faith is low,
And doubts, like sandbars, start to grow,
Do not despair. The tide will turn
And faith, in fullness, will return.