I still believe in fairy tales

I recently stumbled into a conversation about faith, my palms sweaty, my heart pounding. We were about to break the unspoken rule of dinner gatherings: no discussion about politics or religion in this cultural moment, the risk of offense is too great with ever-present land mines that will cancel you out of the relationship. But there we were, seated on the couch, while the dessert was plated and the kids' voices rang around us.

I listened as we sipped our drinks and my friend opened up about his background in a large Catholic family. He shared how he fell away from the faith as his journey into higher education led him into scientific discovery, something that resonated with him in a way Catholicism never had.

"It all began to seem like a bunch of fairy tales," he explained.

I nodded, trying my best to hold his experience carefully as he passed it over to me. The impulse was there to take what he'd just vulnerably shared and attempt to mold it to match my own set of beliefs, something he'd just called fairy tales, and then pass it back to him reshaped.

Ten years ago his words would have pulled me into a spirited debate, but time has softened me at the importance of seeking first to understand before seeking to be understood. Instead I simply offered, "A lot of the stories can be hard to believe."

Though my life experiences have landed me with a different viewpoint, there is value in the telling and hearing of our stories, safely ensconced in the living room over shared chocolate cake and away from message boards and social media. This seems the ideal space to respectfully and sincerely lean in with those whose narratives differ from our own, not in an attempt to persuade but to garner compassion without judgment, to practice civility and authentic community, to listen without finding offense.

My friend went on to talk about how his penchant for science led him to work at NASA (yes, that NASA), and we ended the night with a game of Trivial Pursuit where his team easily and unsurprisingly trounced mine.

After a hugged goodbye, my mind lingered on his words and his honest, not unkind, assessment that to him, my faith is made up of fairy tales. Now that we are deep in the Lenten season, the 40 days before Easter, the most famous of these stories is retold: the Savior betrayed by a friend, tortured, killed, and just when hope seemed lost, He arose, triumphing over death with an invitation to follow Him into eternity.

It is, admittedly, the stuff of fairy tales with heroes and villains, death and victory, despair and joy, and the best of happy endings. And yet, for reasons that are many, I choose to believe it all, to stake my life on it, to share how this story is inextricably a part of my own.

- Jade Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].