Saturday Faith: Moving through the Crisis of Hopelessness
Saturday Faith deals with the times between Friday and Sunday which, in Christian parlance, are associated with Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet, what can be said about the time between the loss of one hope and the emergence of something new? What about the moments of hopelessness?
In Saturday Faith the issue of hopelessness is examined as both an issue found in the Bible and as an experience through which one can travel. Hopelessness is actually a part of the journey of faith. Saturday Faith sets out to examine the stages of faith and demonstrate how one’s theology can fall apart in crisis. In this assessment, one can begin to recognize that, even in places of hopelessness, there is more faith to be found in those Saturday times.
Saturday Faith shows how Job, the disciples, and even Jesus experienced hopelessness. What the reader can hear in these pages that if one finds themselves walking through a “Saturday time” in life, they are not as hopeless or alone as they might feel. It may require a shift in thinking, but Saturday is not where the story ends.
Interview with Charles Ensminger
What does the title, Saturday Faith mean?
There is a phrase that says, “Friday is here, but Sunday is coming.” The idea is a reference to Good Friday (the death of Christ) and Easter Sunday (the Resurrection). Yet the saying, “Friday is here, but Sunday is coming,” tends to overlook the hard reality of those in-between times. I have long believed that the time between the two, the “Saturday” of the title, is the hardest time because it is the odd, amorphous time between a crisis and a renewal. In that time of ‘Saturday’ hopelessness can set in and one can feel quite lost.
Why did you write Saturday Faith?
I began writing this during the first few weeks of the COVID shutdown. People in my church congregation were wondering what to do and what would come next. There was a sense of fear, loss, and real trepidation about the future. I began to feel that there was a real nagging sense of loss and hopelessness in the air. I certainly felt it. So, I began to pull my thoughts together in an attempt to wrestle with the larger issue of hopelessness.
Why focus on hopelessness?
I focused on hopelessness because it is a feeling we have all experienced at one time or another. For many Christians, though, hopelessness is something to be avoided, even feared. I wanted to speak to that and say that hopelessness is nothing to be avoided, because the only way to overcome hopelessness is to move through it. It isn’t a sin, and it isn’t evil. It is a part of living. Even the disciples expressed hopelessness.
Who influenced your writing?
I find that authors who address to difficult issues with sincerity and passion that do not sound patronizing or condescending speak to me most clearly. Over the years I have found writers such as Walter Brueggemann, Robin Myers, and Peter Rollins, as well as Jim Wallis and Phyllis Tickle have written with a particular clarity and directness that is sometimes shied away from.
For whom is this book intended?
There are those who sit in church and feel isolated because they have had their faith challenged by life itself. Sometimes the ideas we have held onto for so long fail us. When that happens, it is easy to get caught up in just going through the motions because there is the fear that no one will understand you. It is for those who find themselves no longer resonating with what was, but not sure if anyone will walk with them in that “Saturday” journey.
Why does the book have two parts?
The first part is a way of talking about how faith develops, grows, and changes. Using the model of the stages of faith put forward by James Fowler, I utilize the symbolic image of the nativity to demonstrate that as we are in different parts of our faith journey, we understand the meaning of that image differently. Once I lay down the foundation of how faith and the experience of faith changes, I turn the focus specially to the idea of those who find themselves experiencing hopelessness.
An Excerpt from Saturday Faith: Moving through the Crisis of Hopelessness
There is a phrase that says, “Friday’s here, but Sunday is coming.” The meaning behind this phrase is that there is hope in hopelessness. Yet, this kind of phraseology does not come from a “Saturday” point of view. It might not even come from a “Sunday” point of view. Instead, it seems to reflect, albeit indirectly, a dismissal of whatever issue or crisis has brought on the “Saturday” moment.
For a person moving into this particular place of hopelessness, the idea of “Sunday” is far, far away. Likewise, “Friday” is a distant memory of a place that one once was but to which one can no longer return. There may be a “Sunday” but in the time of “Saturday” there can be no certitude that there is anything left except “Saturday.” To offer a platitude that “Sunday is coming” is to be dismissive of the reality of the crisis of the individual. It is also something of a defense mechanism. While the phrase itself is meant to offer hope and to be consoling, the consolation is often more for the one saying it rather than for the one going through the crisis of faith.
Perhaps one of the most crippling ideas of hopelessness is the guilt that often comes as a side-effect. There is the guilt that is found in the internal arguments of not having had enough faith, or not having said the right prayers, or not having been as devoted, as faithful, as committed to a particular line of thinking as one should – a reflexive casting for reasons for feeling this hopelessness that puts blame on oneself.
When we come to recognize our sense of hopelessness, we feel guilty and we want to figure out how to cease feeling hopeless. The quickest answer is to blame oneself for failing in faithfulness. Another quick answer is to look back and find the point of mistake. Much like the fundamentalist insistence on being able to point to a moment of salvation, hopelessness makes one seek to find the moment of apostacy or failure. It should also be said that even if you don’t do this to yourself, others may very well do it for you. If your hopelessness looks like faithlessness to others, or if your hopelessness or questions are threatening to their thinking, they, like Job’s friends, will seek to foist blame on you.
Praise for Saturday Faith: Moving through the Crisis of Hopelessness
“Saturday Faith presents an intriguing theological and philosophical argument for embracing hopelessness as part of Christian faith rather than antithetical to faith itself. Ensminger invites us along an unusual biblical journey, coupled with Fowler’s stages of faith, to illustrate how hopelessness is essential for theological maturation. Living in liminal ‘Holy Saturday’ space, where hope becomes past tense and the future is not yet visible, is essential for authentic Christian faith development toward ‘Resurrection Sunday.’”
—Lisa Withrow, leadership coach and consultant
“This is a book for the hopeless, that is, those whose hopes have been dashed. Ensminger explores the meaning of despair using the image of ‘Saturday,’ the day between crucifixion and resurrection. Instead of rushing his readers through Saturday, he gives them valuable insight into just what it might mean to experience a prolonged ‘Saturday.’ A must-read for those wanting to think about Saturday, even as they wait in hope for Sunday to come.”
—William McDonald, professor of religion, Tennessee Wesleyan University
“In Saturday Faith, a wise and compassionate pastor reframes doubt and hopelessness from symptoms of lost faith to important stages on the journey toward wholeness and Christian maturity. Drawing on rich biblical and theological images and themes, Ensminger insightfully and gracefully challenges us to confront our ‘dark nights of the soul’ as preludes to renewed hope and greater growth in Christian discipleship. Individuals and groups will find this book to be a valuable contribution to their continuing faith development.”
—Kenneth L. Carder, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Duke Divinity School
Saturday Faith: Moving through the Crisis of Hopelessness
by Charles Ensminger
Wipf & Stock, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
978-1-6667-0718-2 / paperback / $15
Rev. Dr. Charles Ensminger (D.Min from MTSO), is an ordained Elder in the UMC and is pastor of Allen Memorial UMC in Athens, Tennessee. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Religion at Tennessee Wesleyan University and the author of the book Crafting...