Thomas and Peter are this writer’s favorite apostles. Thomas because he refused to believe unless he saw with his own eyes and confirmed “an idle tale” with his own hand; Peter because he was impetuous, quickly stepping onto the sea at Christ’s invitation only to plunge like a stone when his faith failed him.
It was through these two very different eyes — one of Thomas, the other of Peter — that we viewed Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey’s Two Churches in the Cliffs on Via Lucis this morning.
The two churches on the cliffs appeared differently to these different eyes of faith.
Apse, Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) Photo by PJ McKey
The apse of Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption with its narrow vertical window immediately elicited a Petrine sense of immediate belief. It held Peter’s eye for a long time.
Perhaps it was held by the yearning for the vertical, that which transcends the horizontal banality to which a mass culture has shrunk everything not of its own making. Perhaps it is the delight of hope from above that trembles the spine of the despairing. Or perhaps it’s the beauty of the apse’s proportionality, the genius of the central Christian symbol: the intersection of the horizontal by the more gracious vertical — the horror of human cruelty interrupted and transformed by the unexpected shaft of light and the still small Voice heard by Elijah in his cave. Or all of the above and more.
But Thomas is never far beyond Peter. It is the Thomas in us that asks the hard questions, insists on separating fact from fiction, reality from illusion, good faith from what Sartre called bad faith. It is Thomas whose faith couldn’t make itself piggy-back on the shoulders of the other apostles’ story of having met the risen Christ. It was Thomas who insisted that he see for himself the evidence for “seeing” or believing in hope beyond the horror of the suffering, cruelty, and death his eyes had seen days before on the Hill of Skulls.
Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence ) Photo by ICE-Marseille, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Which brings us to the second church on the cliff — the story of the stillborn in Via Lucis‘ post that awakens Thomas’ skepticism.
“Notre Dame de Beauvoir was known for its suscitations – stillborn children were carried up and baptised there, at which time they would immediately come to life and would be granted a place in heaven. This was a well-known phenomenon in the region and also known at two neighboring churches.”
While the thought of stillborn children immediately coming back to life appeals to Peter, it offends Thomas as an idle tale for the feeble of heart and mind. It’s either true or it’s not. And, if it’s true, what kind of cruel God would deny the same to the stillborn children and grieving parents who have not carried them up the steps to Notre Dame de Beauvoir for suscitations? Or is the tradition of Notre Dame de Beauvoir a sacred story of love and hope beyond what the empiricist eye of Thomas can see?
We have a left brain and a right brain, and sometimes it is true that never the twain shall meet. Likewise, faith has two eyes: Peter the believer, and Thomas the doubter — its own kind of double vision — looking out and up from one small brain.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 6, 2017.