More Than Doubt: Living in the Questions

We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith. - Pope Francis

Online dictionaries vary in their definitions but generally speaking, doubt is defined as lacking in conviction, having feelings of uncertainty or feelings of fear. All of these themes are explored in Gallery 7’s production of Doubt: a Parable.

The play is set in the Bronx, in 1964, just after the assassination of President Kennedy. It is a time of profound uncertainty and fear in America. In the opening scene of the play, Father Flynn, the parish priest, delivers a sermon on doubt. Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone, he says. His sermon sets the stage and as the play progresses we see how each character expresses both their convictions and their doubts.

While the play is set in a church context, it is not intended to be a criticism of the church (of any church) or of people of faith. The setting could just as easily be an office or a family home, any context in which there are relationships of trust that could be either built up or eroded.

The playwright, John Patrick Shanely, has given us a cast with which we as an audience can identify. Each character in this play has a measure of faith as well as a measure of doubt. He purposefully chooses to end the play with as many questions as answers and gives us as viewers much to ponder as we leave.

In his preface to the play he writes: Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite…You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty…

For some of us, particularly those of us who attend church, living with uncertainty feels like weakness or lack of faith. We forget that as human beings we are not meant to be static but always moving, exploring, questioning. We are so afraid of weakness that we hurry to find the answers without considering the questions. Czech poet, Rainer Maria Rilke expresses it this way:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

So, do not be afraid to see this excellent play! Allow these characters to create a space where we can explore situations of uncertainty and the fear that comes with that, remembering Father Flynn’s encouragement that as we do so, we are not alone.

-Angelika Dawson