When did this begin? When did I become a Catholic?
I started reading a book on major themes in literary theory this evening, and (naturally) the first chapter detailed the topic of “beginning” in literary criticism. The opening lines of Dante’s The Divine Comedy were among the examples treated in the chapter. These lines read: “Midway in the journey of our life I find myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.” The book’s commentary describes this beginning as a “middling”–a beginning in the middle of life, in the middle of a dark wood–suggesting that Dante’s opening communicates that, “there are no absolute beginnings–only strange original middles. No journey, no life ever really begins: all have in some sense already begun before they begin” (3).
I thought of my faith when I read these lines. I think the beginning of my faith was a middling.
Some people teach that Christian faith begins in baptism. (This idea of beginning seems particularly fitting for consideration, as it is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord today!) They might say that when I was baptized a Catholic by my parents as an infant, something about my existence changed in that moment. I became a Christian. Or, they might say that in baptism my parents established the context that would determine my faith in the the future. Baptism was the beginning of what would unfold in me later in life.
Others cite a one-time proclamation of Christian faith as the definitive beginning. When one accepts Christ as his/her Lord and Savior from sin, he/she becomes a Christian. Many people tells stories of this moment when they knew something in them changed. They became Christians.
But I think my faith began with a middling more like the one described in this textbook of mine: “There are no absolute beginnings–only strange original middles. No journey, no life ever really begins: all have in some sense already begun before they begin.” I cannot tell the story of how my Catholic faith began, so much as I can look back at the story of my faith and realize that it began before the moment that I recognized it. When I try to pin down a moment, I always identity some precursor–some prior person or event or moment or memory full of grace and faith and god–one that complicates any notion I have of “beginning.” Every “beginning” I consider becomes more like a “middling.”
I cannot tell of my faith’s beginning, only that it began. And the story continues.
Jessica Coblentz is a student at Harvard Divinity School. This entry is cross-posted on her personal blog, www.jessicacoblentz.com, where you can also find more of her musings.