Faith is “the soul riding at anchor.”
– Josh Billings –
I ended last week’s post with a couple of questions: What guides us as we examine our beliefs? What influences us to discard one belief and hold onto another? There are all sorts of possible answers to those questions, and I can’t answer them for you. Nor can you answer them for me. I can tell you only where I land: asking more questions. Because my faith is all about loving-kindness and grace, that’s my measuring stick. I have to ask:
• Do my beliefs hurt or help people like me as well as people different from me?
• Do my beliefs cause me to discourage or encourage?
• Do my beliefs dismiss or invite?
• Do my beliefs curse or bless?
• Do my beliefs lead me to withhold or give?
If my beliefs hurt, discourage, dismiss, curse, or lead me to withhold, I need to change my beliefs. But that doesn’t mean I lose my faith. On the contrary, it means my faith is growing, my heart is opening, my life is becoming more gracious, I’m going the right direction.
Faith, said author and lecturer George Buttrick, is “the response of our spirits to beckonings of the eternal.” I’ve put it this way: Faith is the slant of our hearts toward what we consider the ultimate purpose and meaning of life. It’s our spiritual disposition toward what matters most to us. Faith can range from weak to strong, stunted to growing, stagnant to fresh, shrunken to full, blind to open-eyed. We’re all somewhere in that range with our faith. We’re all in process. Cultivating an open-hearted faith is an ongoing part of life’s journey, and because the way forward is unmapped, questioning and wondering become a way of life, a way of faith.
Navigating the uncertainty of life is a bit like writing a novel. When novelists begin a new work, it’s hard for us to see all the way from “once upon a time” to “the end.” We may know where we want the story to go, but the way to get there is uncertain, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll end up where we expected to. But we head out anyway, writing the first sentence, then the second, then the third, always searching for the right turn of events, the right images, the right words. Author E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Real life, of course, is a bit more complex than a story in a novel – and a lot more important. We try to choose the wise path, but as Atul Gawande says in Being Mortal, “The problem is that the wise course is so frequently unclear.” He adds, “For a long while, I thought that this was simply because of uncertainty. When it is hard to know what will happen, it is hard to know what to do. But the challenge, I’ve come to see, is more fundamental than that. One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most.”
I’ve heard that doubt is the opposite of faith. I’ve also heard that fear is the opposite of faith. But I disagree with both. We can have a deep faith and still have doubts and fears. In fact, fear may be a prerequisite for faith, just as fear is a prerequisite for courage. Faith helps us handle our fears and act with courage. Faith means we don’t have to be ruled by fear. As people of faith, we can decide what will matter most as we move forward: fear or hope.
Hope is what we’re about, those of us who believe in love and joy and peace. Even though the future is unknown and uncertain, faith tells us that, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” After winter comes spring. After rain comes sunshine. After night comes the light of day.
As a growing faith steps into the future, it keeps its eyes open for ways in which the whole and the holy show up every day. A faith that is growing more open-hearted, honest, and grace-full heads in the direction of loving-kindness. We listen for loving-kindness in the world. We sense it and tune our spirits toward it. And we know it when we meet it. We recognize loving-kindness wherever we see it, because it’s the same flame that burns within us.
Loving-kindness is the visible, tangible sign of hope that we carry into a hope-starved world. Hope is a bit like driving a car at night. We may be able to see only as far as our headlights, but we can make the whole trip that way.
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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
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