≡ Menu

The Ebb and Flow of Faith


“I must go down to the seas again,

for the call of the running tide

is a wild call and a clear call

that may not be denied.”

 – John Masefield, “Sea Fever” –

Like the tide, a living, thriving faith ebbs and flows within us, constantly present yet always changing with the seasons of our lives. In childhood, we accept the beliefs we’re taught and flow with a simple, accepting faith. Sometime later, most of us begin to wonder about our beliefs. Doubting, questioning, and examining are signs that our faith is alive and growing. Whether we find satisfactory answers or decide to live with our questions, we flow forward on this incoming tide with a new level of confidence or understanding . . . until the tide goes back out, leaving us in another stage of wondering and questioning. As this ebb and flow continues, our beliefs change and our faith grows. It’s a lifetime process.

But is it necessary? Can’t we settle for a simple faith and unquestioned beliefs, perhaps the “faith of our fathers”? Of course, we can. I suspect that in many cultures or sub-cultures – and even at certain stages of our lives – a simple, unquestioned faith is all we can manage. But I don’t think that’s the norm in cultures like ours that encourage thinking and questioning and have time to ponder different beliefs.

I wonder if faith might even follow a path similar to psychologist Abraham Maslow‘s famous “hierarchy of needs,” usually illustrated as a sectioned pyramid. The lowest and broadest section represents basic physical needs (food, water, sleep). As the theory goes, if these basic needs are scarce, we’ll spend our time and energy trying to find and secure them. If these basic needs are available, our attention turns to the next level up: safety (security in our homes, our health, and our jobs). If we feel safe in these areas, we move up to the next level: love and belonging. We concentrate on looking for love and finding out where we belong, which includes friendship and, at its best, family.

Once love and belonging are secure, we can spend time on the next level: esteem. We can give attention to our personal achievement, confidence, and self-care. When this level of needs is satisfied, we ascend to the top level: self-actualization, becoming our best morally, creatively, mentally, and so on. Atul Gawande, in Being Mortal,  says that some psychologists now suggest an even higher level, which is other-centered, “a transcendent desire to see and help other beings achieve their potential.” That makes sense to me, because according to researchers of moral development, that’s the highest level of morality (although every level of faith can and should include at least the basic morality of the Golden Rule, treating others the way we want to be treated.)

I suspect we could apply this model to faith development. At the foundational level, we may have doubts about our beliefs, even deep-seated ones, but we’re busy attending to basic survival, securing food, clothes, and shelter, which leaves little time or energy to examine our beliefs, even if we’re inclined to. At this level, blind belief and unquestioning trust in leaders may be the most our faith can achieve, especially if those leaders provide for our basic needs.

But if our basic needs are met, we focus on safety. If we don’t feel safe, then exploring our beliefs is lower on the to-do list. It’s hard to question our beliefs if we think that by doing so, we risk our safety. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, we lean toward believing and following leaders whom we think will keep us safe.

Once we feel safe, love and belonging become priorities. We’re likely to align our faith with the beliefs of friends and communities where we find love and belonging, even if we have doubts about our beliefs. If we feel that we and our faith questions are no longer welcome, we may look for love and belonging elsewhere.

The next level, the point of self-actualization, is where we really have the freedom to question. We come closer to discovering the core of what we personally believe and don’t believe.

When it comes to faith, I suspect that the lines between each of these levels is porous. In other words, we’re not locked into one level or another but move up or down the pyramid according to the circumstances we encounter in life. Since people have different tolerance levels for stress, and each of us can take only so much upheaval, I suspect that under pressure, many of us revert to old comfort zones and levels of faith that previously felt more stable and less uncertain.

There’s nothing wrong with faith at any of those levels. All levels of faith are valid; all are part of the faith journey. Being faithful – or faith full – means staying with the dance, continuing the dialogue, embracing the growth, staying with the ebb and flow. Being faithless – or faith less – means stepping away from the dance, leaving the dialogue, and refusing to grow.

Part of the mystery and beauty of God is that “If we are faithless, God will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13). If we step away or pull back, God stays in the relationship, in the dance, in the dialogue. God keeps faith, holds the path open, and stays with us. God is in the ebb and flow.

“. . . the call of the running tide

is a wild call and a clear call . . .”

Next week: Faith, Hope, Love . . . Why is Love the Greatest?

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.


Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.


Swimming in Faith

One dark, looks-like-rain day, I greeted the piano tuner at our front door and commented on what a gray day it was. That prompted him to tell about the two elderly sisters who were his neighbors. They were in their garden one day when he was leaving his house, so he waved to them, calling, “Good to see you out on this gray day!”

One sister waved back and called, “It’s not gray. It’s silver.”

The other sister smiled and nodded. “Silver. Definitely silver.”

I’ve called rainy days silver ever since.

A French saying commonly attributed to writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr goes, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns: I am grateful that thorns have roses.” G.K. Chesterton made the same point but in a different way: “An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” We can see gray or silver, thorns or roses, adventures or inconveniences. We might as well choose silver, roses, and adventures.

During Thanksgiving season in the art class I attend, we all gathered in a circle and took turns telling what we were thankful for. “Integrity,” said one of my friends. “Color, shape, and texture,” I said. Another friend smiled, “You know all those hard things I’ve gone through in the past couple of years? They brought me here, and I’m very thankful for that.”

All of our experiences – good, bad, or blah – have brought you and me here – to this blog. To this post. To this paragraph. To this confession: I write this blog as much for me as for you. It has been a way to lay out my thoughts, examine what I believe, and explore my faith. I struggle with loving, forgiving, and being in community. But my faith is opening. It’s living and breathing and growing. I hope it is growing with integrity, growing more gracious. I am in process. We are all in process. The journey is not done.

I want to reiterate four points I’ve made in past posts:

  1. A growing, living faith is constantly coming of age, as it should be, whether we’re fourteen, forty, or seventy-four.
  2. There’s no shame in questioning, in wondering, and in making your faith your own.
  3. You are responsible for what you believe.
  4. Changing your beliefs doesn’t mean losing your faith.

You can swim in an open-hearted, living, growing faith. It will hold you up. It will buoy you and carry you as you carry it. It is you. Our faith is our spiritual fingerprint, and as such, it’s unique for each of us. It touches and is touched by our cultures of origin, our sub-cultures, and every experience we have.

One of my grandsons turned one-year-old last week. My father is ninety. My two sons are approaching middle age. I just became a senior citizen. We each have a faith of some kind, the atmosphere of our souls, our spiritual attitude toward what each of us values most in life, our inner tilt. We are each on a journey, each of us in process. Sometimes life surges forward bright and clear and open; at other times it pulls back murky and iffy and drawn-in. Faith lives in that ebb and flow.

More about the ebb and flow of faith next week. Meanwhile, may your days be golden . . . or silver.


If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.

Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.


Bridge to the Unknown


“Once I might have wished for that: never to grow old.

But now I know that to stay young always is also not to change.

And that is what life’s all about –

changes going on every minute,

and you never know when something begins

where it’s going to take you.”

– Joan W. Blos,  A Gathering of Days

If I look at life as a journey, I’m over halfway home, maybe almost home. Who knows? One thing I’ve learned on my journey is that you and I, at this point in time, are not only the age we celebrated on our last birthdays but also every age we’ve ever been. My birth certificate, passport, and driver’s license show that I’m in my sixties. But the truth is, I am also three and eight and sixteen and twenty-five and thirty-nine and every other age I’ve ever experienced.

Growing older is a gift in that way. We become all the ages we have lived. We embody all the joys and sorrows, all the discoveries and mistakes, all the aha moments (and the oh-no moments) that we’ve encountered so far on the journey. You may be younger than I, you may be older, but hold on to what you’ve discovered and to what you’re still discovering. This journey is uniquely yours and will keep filling and shaping you until you cross the horizon, perhaps even beyond.

We’re all headed toward some destination that we can’t yet see. What was lies behind us; we can recall it with varying degrees of accuracy. What is envelopes us; we can sense and describe it from our perspective. What will be . . . no one knows. My son who lives in Yokohama tells me that if you look carefully at Japanese art, you’ll see that there’s often a path or bridge that curves over the horizon or around a bend. It hints at the unknown that lies ahead.

As I look toward the future, toward the curve in the path, toward the disappearing bridge, the far edges of my feelings curl like the tattered border of an ancient map, and I wonder if this is how early explorers felt when they headed into uncharted territory: excitement and panic, energy and overwhelm, anticipation and dread. Here there be dragons. Or not. Who knows?

Ann Patchett wrote that short stories can “take you someplace you never knew you wanted to go.” Life is the same. There’s every reason to expect it to take us places we never knew we wanted to go. The days ahead hold gifts for us. Between now and then, between here and there, we’ll have adventures. We’ll make discoveries. We’ll have the time of our lives. Literally.

On the other hand, we know from past experience that sometimes life takes us places we never knew we didn’t want to go. If we could do life over again, we might choose a different route. But looking back, taking inventory of both the good and the bad, I can say there’s something beautiful about having experienced the whole gamut of life, its griefs and joys, its frustrations and satisfactions.

“Each thing she learned became part of herself,

to be used over and over in new adventures.”

– Kate Seredy, Gypsy

Next week: Swimming in Faith.

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.

Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.


What Lies Beyond the Horizon?


Maps were important in my childhood. For one thing, maps of the U.S. were changing to include the new interstate freeway system. It was a pretty big deal to be able to ride on one of these new highways where there were no traffic signals or railroad crossings. You could even bypass towns and cities altogether. On television (also a new invention), a popular commercial urged us to “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.” And we did. The interstate freeways were a boon to family vacations. We could drive straight to our destination without having to stop and see anything except restrooms.

A few years later my generation took to the road, both freeways and back roads, trying to “find ourselves.” Since then I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve discovered that on the road or not, we’re always in the process of finding ourselves. We are always coming of age. Maybe that’s why I see life as a journey.

We’re making our way through the terrain of time, and our major challenge is that life comes without a map. We know that mountains and valleys, straight paths and crooked roads lie ahead. We’ll have to traverse emotional territory. While we may pick up tips and guidebooks along the way, what lies ahead is unique to each of us. And it’s always uncertain, even though we’re all heading toward the same horizon and whatever lies beyond.

Since I’m originally from West Texas, when I think of the horizon, the image of the cowboy in old Western movies and TV shows comes to mind. The hero rides off into the sunset, his silhouette getting smaller and smaller as he heads toward a blazing band of gold lining the horizon. As the camera pulls back, the gold deepens into fire orange and eases upward, becoming a ribbon of crimson that softens into lavender, turquoise, and rich blue. As the evening darkens, the sky overhead spreads out in a deep violet-black sparked with stars. All the while, the silhouette, man on horse, rides steadily west toward that sinking blaze of gold.

To me, the American West has an aura of warmth, openness, freedom, and possibility that I find nowhere else. Although I’ve lived half my life (most of my adult years) east of the Mississippi River, when I travel west across the U.S., I always feel like I’m going home. There’s something about crossing the Mississippi, passing through the hills of Arkansas, and finally hitting the flat plains and big sky of Texas that releases a tension in me and says you’re home now.

If life is our grand journey, then home is whatever awaits us at the end of our time here. When I was younger, I thought I knew what that was. I took for granted that the beliefs I had been taught – streets of gold, gates of pearl, and 24/7 worship before the throne of God – were absolute truth. What I see now is that no one knows what lies beyond. We have beliefs, hopes, and opinions, but certainty? That, we don’t have.

But what lies beyond is not the point. The journey is the point – the roads you and I choose (or that are chosen for us). Each of us navigates life as best we can. What matters is how we travel those roads, what we discover along the way, what we carry with us, and what we leave behind.

This is Thanksgiving week in the U.S. As you look back on your life journey, what are you deeply grateful for?


Next week: Bridge to the Unknown

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.

Text and cloud-sunray photo © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

All other photos courtesy pexels.com.


A Summer Storm and a Long Road Home


A West Texas highway, Summer 1964:

We’re heading to Abilene, Texas, on the way home from visiting our cousins in Lubbock. Daddy is driving the family Oldsmobile station wagon, Mother sits up front reading a magazine (she’s one of those people who can read and ride), and my youngest sister sits between them on the bench seat. Well, sit is optimistic. She sometimes stands (no seat belts in those days) and sometimes peers into the back seat to see what her three older sisters are up to. A couple of us are squirming. But not me. I’ve claimed the window seat behind Daddy, and I watch the clouds.

The distant thunderheads look like the mountains I’ve seen out west with peaks you can see for miles away as you travel the long, straight highways. But unlike mountains, clouds gradually change shape. Today, they’re in a slow-motion boil, their underbellies full and dark and ominous.

Since the land here is flat and treeless, the wind is free to gust at us, and it does, making our car shiver as it blows the full-bellied clouds in our direction. As the cloud ceiling lowers so do my eyebrows. The greenish-gray light bathing the landscape bothers me, and I don’t like the look of the wisp-like tails trailing down from some of the clouds.

When fat drops of rain splat onto the windshield, Daddy turns on the headlights and wipers. It’s not long before the whole sky lets loose, and I can’t see the clouds anymore. Because sheets of rain are blowing sideways across the highway, I can’t see the landscape any longer. In fact, I can’t even see the highway in front of us.

Neither can Daddy. He slows down but keeps driving, hunched forward trying to see. After a few minutes, he rolls down his window and sticks his head out to keep an eye on what he can glimpse of the white stripes in the center of the road. The rest of us sit tight, listening to the drumming rain and shuddering wind.

Eventually we drive out of the storm. Through the rear window, I watch another car’s headlights emerge from the dark gray curtain of rain behind us. Daddy closes his window and wipes rain off his face, and a couple of us start to squirm again. But not me. I rest my forehead against the cool window and study the shafts of sunlight that slice through towering clouds, spotlighting patches of ranch land, a barn, and the long road home.

If you’ve followed my posts for a while, you know that I often refer to life as a journey. It’s a common metaphor. Like my family’s drive home that summer, life can take us through stormy events. When the world closes in on us and we can’t see what’s ahead, we may have to slow down and make our way carefully. Like a trip on unfamiliar roads, life can take us in directions that cause us to lose our way. But unlike a cross-country drive, life’s journey doesn’t come with a GPS or a map. So it can be a bit trickier to navigate. For the next few weeks, that’s what I’ll blog about – finding what we need to navigate ourselves into an unknown future. Next week: What lies beyond the horizon? Can we know? Does it really even matter?


If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.

Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy pexels.com.


What Will Matter Most as We Move Forward?


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.

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.


Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.



“The problem is that when people trust things blindly

and when they just apply them blindly,

they don’t think about cause and effect.”

– data scientist Cathy O’Neil

O’Neil was talking about blindly trusting data analytics. But her point is universally true. We could apply it to health tips. Or news reports (conservative as well as liberal). Or religious beliefs. Swallowing beliefs whole, without questioning, is dangerous.

If we take for granted that we’re right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong, we’re in the danger zone whether we realize it or not. We may be well-meaning, but we’re likely to damage others and ourselves as well. Physically? Maybe. Emotionally? Quite likely. Spiritually? That, too. Especially when we’re talking about religious beliefs.

Before a recent art class, I was talking with my fellow students when the discussion turned to a news item that seemed wildly false. One of my friends asked me, “Are you drinking that Kool-Ade? I’m not.” I assured her that, no, I wasn’t drinking that Kool-Ade either. Then we realized that the younger people in our group didn’t know what we were referring to. (In case you don’t know, it refers to a charismatic cult leader who, in the late 1970’s, persuaded his followers to move to a compound in Guyana and then got them all to commit suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Ade. They died because most of them didn’t question him. For those who finally did, it was too late.) Believing without questioning is hazardous to our health.

Another danger of blind belief is the risk of boxing ourselves in. When we believe without questioning, we limit what we can learn about the expansive, unfathomable grace and love of God. Life nudges us to be curious and to question. It invites us to be open. People whose beliefs and faith journey are different from our own have much to offer us. If we take off our blinders, we see more, the world widens, life expands, and the horizon ahead broadens.

But isn’t questioning our beliefs hazardous to our spiritual health? Isn’t an open-hearted faith vulnerable? Doesn’t being open mean that anything can come in? The fear of abandoning our faith often keeps us (and our friends and families) from asking questions about our beliefs. Isn’t doubt risky? If we allow ourselves to question and doubt, aren’t we making ourselves vulnerable? We might abandon religion or leave our faith.

On the other hand, if our beliefs dissolve in the light of questions, then they can’t be very solid. In fact, they may not be our beliefs at all. Our “beliefs” may instead be assent to a list of principles, tenets, or positions held by someone else, in which case, our belief is not in the principle we adhere to but in the person or group who teaches that principle. We believe in them, trusting that they are on the right path, assuming that if we follow them, we’ll be on the right path too.

But each of us is responsible for what we believe – and for the consequences of our beliefs as they affect the lives of others throughout the world, whether they hold our beliefs or not.

Still, there’s that prickling fear: Isn’t an open-hearted faith vulnerable? Doesn’t being open mean that anything can come in? A few years ago, as I and a friend explored these questions, my friend asked, “Can you be open but not porous?” I had never thought of that possibility. But I knew that the answer was yes if porous means accepting a belief without question, and open simply means giving serious consideration to different beliefs.

Openness considers another viewpoint, which is, of course, the considerate thing to do. We acknowledge that another person’s belief or position is an option. Maybe it’s not the option you or I would choose for ourselves, but being considerate grants others the same respect that we want them to grant to us and our beliefs. It seems to me that when we trace any belief back far enough, there’s only one conclusion to draw: we believe what we believe because we choose to. Which should make us far more respectful and merciful and gracious toward those who have chosen different beliefs because they just can’t swallow – or follow – the whys of our beliefs.

Yes, there’s a risk in questioning and examining our beliefs. But a growing, thriving faith, a faith of integrity, is fluid, open to weighing and changing the beliefs held within that faith. A flexible muscle is healthy; a paralyzed muscle is not. A healthy faith can have healthy doubts. And we can change our beliefs without losing our faith.

Now I suspect that we all hold some unquestioned beliefs, whether we’re aware of them or not. Blind belief is where we start in childhood, and for the rest of our lives, sorting out what we can and cannot believe continues to be part of the process of maturing in faith. An open-hearted, growing faith admits that there are different interpretations of anything and everything. It admits that some of my beliefs might be wrong. In fact, I can guarantee that I am wrong – about something. You, too, are wrong – about something. But neither of us knows exactly what those somethings are. That’s why it’s so important to be respectful. To consider. To listen. To never condemn.

It’s a privilege to be able to examine a belief and decide whether or not we can honestly accept it as ours. When we can honestly believe something we’ve long given assent to, then that belief becomes even more important to us. And when we let go of a belief that we can no longer embrace in good conscience, it’s expansive and freeing. Truly believing enriches us, heart and soul. It buoys our spirits and expands our faith.

So, as we examine our beliefs, what guides us? What influences us to discard one belief and hold onto another? We’ll head that direction in the next post, which continues our exploration of questioning and wondering as a way of life.


If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.


Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy pexels.com.


Our Inner Pilot Light

Several years ago, I went to Hungary to speak at a Christian Arts Festival attended primarily by young people from Eastern Europe. In the evenings, we held concerts for them. One evening between performances, one of our U.S. volunteers was chatting with a small group of teens, when one of the teens pointed to a young man smoking outside the tent and said, “He’s going to the hell.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the volunteer.

“Because he smokes,” said the teen.

“And why would he go to hell because he smokes?” asked the volunteer.

The teen shrugged and nodded toward his youth leader at the far side of the tent. “That’s what he told me.”

Was the teen wrong? Was he right? Would he know? It was a blind belief. It wasn’t his. But if he decided he didn’t believe it, would that mean he had lost his faith?

We all begin life with blind beliefs, accepting as truth whatever family and friends tell us and show us. But as we come of age, we usually discover a dissonance between some of our beliefs and our experiences. There’s a mismatch: What we’ve been told and always believed does not match our experience. It doesn’t ring true to what one writer calls our “inner pilot light.” That’s the image of God within us, the heart of us that, unadulterated, knows and craves love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, balance, self-control, grace, mercy, hope . . . Author Diana Butler Bass says, “[T]he path of Christian faith in a post-religious age must be that of experiential belief in which the heart takes the lead . . . It is only in the territory of the heart where faith makes sense.”

The point is not to drop everything we were ever taught or to cut away everything we ever believed. The point is to figure out if we truly believe what we’ve been told or what we’ve read – in other words, someone else’s thinking. Are we letting someone else’s beliefs about God define our beliefs about God?

If our bodies are temples and we hold sacred space within us, then faith is the music that fills that sacred space. Faith is the hum of the choir that reaches to the highest rafters and seeps through the deepest cracks and can be heard or sensed by all who pass by. Our beliefs give the faith-music of our sacred space a tenor, a certain mood. So, if my beliefs change, the tenor of the music changes, but the music is still there. The faith is still intact.

Let me switch metaphors for a minute. My own artistic style seems to involve marks that swoop upward. Even when I’m creating a free-flowing abstract with no subject in mind, my marks resemble tall plants or flying birds or dancers with arms raised. I can change colors of paint, I can sketch with pencil or charcoal, I can create a collage, but whatever I do, my marks are there, flowing in my style. Our faith, too, flows in our style and becomes as distinctive as the marks of an artist.

Changing our beliefs does not mean losing our faith. Adjusting our beliefs affects our faith, yes, but in my experience, if beliefs change because we are taking responsibility for them and making them personally ours, then faith expands. As I said before, we may assent to certain beliefs or live in a certain belief system, but we don’t believe unless we really, personally believe. The more we take personal responsibility for our beliefs, the more likely we are to find our faith becoming stronger, richer, and livelier. In fact, that’s to be expected if we have a living, thriving, growing faith, a faith of integrity and grace.

Choosing what to believe requires us to occasionally pause on our journey, take our beliefs out of our pockets, hold them at arm’s length, turn them around, and inspect them – topside, underside, front and back, asking, “Is this belief something I was told and simply took for granted? Or is it truly what I believe? If it is, why?” If we don’t believe it, then we can’t assent to it with any kind of integrity. If we do believe it and know why – or we’re figuring out why – we put it back in our pocket and journey on. Either way, we move forward with open eyes and open hearts, more intentional about who we are and what we stand for.


If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.

Text and painting © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy pexels.com.


Who Did You Grow Up to Be?

“Ideals are like stars;

you will not succeed in touching them with your hands.

But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters,

you choose them as your guides,

and following them you will reach your destiny.”

  – Carl Schurz

This has been a difficult week. After declining life support, my mother died. She was a giving, loving person, a mom not only to me and my three sisters but also to many people outside our family who needed mothering. All this week, my sisters and I spoke with people who dropped by or phoned or came to the visitation and funeral. Some of them I had not seen since I was a teen and would not have recognized. When I figured out who they were, I wondered, though I didn’t ask, “Who did you grow up to be? What did you grow up to believe?”

We choose our ideals, our life guides, our beliefs, our star-maps. And from time to time, we tweak them. Ultimately, what we believe is what we choose to believe.

I’m happy, because I choose to be.

I forgive, because I choose to let go.

I take each day as it comes, because I choose to.

I’m content with imperfection, because I choose to be.

I wish myself and others the best, because I choose to.

I believe what I believe, because I choose to believe it.

Faith lives and breathes and grows if we let it, because faith is alive. Faith is our attitude toward what we value most in life. If I want an honest faith, a faith of integrity – and I do – I need to examine my beliefs, keep what’s truly mine, and leave behind what is not. Having a faith of integrity requires taking responsibility for what I believe. I believe what I believe, because I choose to believe it.

Ann Patchett, in an essay called “Fact vs. Fiction,” talks about two kinds of educational experience: active and passive. In the passive experience, “your only role is to accept what you are given. To memorize facts and later repeat them for a test might get you a good grade, but it’s not the same thing as having intellectual curiosity.” In the active experience, “You realize that one answer is not enough and that you have to look at as many sources as are available to you so that you can piece together a larger picture.” An open-hearted faith, a faith of integrity and grace, wonders. It’s curious. It’s always trying to piece together a larger picture.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson laments the fact that he sees plenty of children who parrot back that they’re told rather than learning how to think. Do we allow children to question? When the answers to their questions are uncertain, are we able to honestly admit that we don’t know?

What about our own beliefs as adults? Psychologist Daniel J. Levitin points out that we often blindly accept what we’re told and “have a tendency to apply critical thinking only to things we disagree with.” Do we ever question what we’ve always agreed with? Are we truly as certain as we’d like to be? Are we able to appreciate the mystery of God? Are we content to live inside the questions?

Or are we so uncomfortable with questions that we grab on to answers that we haven’t thought through? When we hold what we think is an answer, are we so glued to it that we’re unable to crack open the question again? Why does that matter, anyway? Because it’s the questions, not the answers that broaden our horizons and urge us on like seafarers “on the desert of waters.”

So who did you grow up to be? What did you grow up to believe? What are you growing to be?

Next week: belief and our inner pilot light.

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.


Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.


A Greater Mystery

“It is sometimes the mystery of death

that brings one to a consciousness

of the still greater mystery of life.”

– Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm –

I’m in Texas this week with my Dad and my three younger sisters at my mother’s hospital bedside in ICU. Mother is 90 years old, and from her hospital bed, she has been writing her good-byes on sheets of paper on a clipboard – amazingly without looking at pen or paper. Last night she asked for the breathing tube to be removed, understanding that the CO2 level in her blood would rise, causing her to go to sleep and eventually die. We honored her wishes. My dad and I and my three younger sisters were at her bedside. So far she is still with us, but it’s just a matter of how long her body holds on now. We don’t know what will happen from one moment to the next, but we have been reminded over the past few days that each breath is precious.

I haven’t been able to finish the post I meant to send for this week, so I’m duplicating what I posted on my Carry the Calm site. I’ll send an update and regular post next week. Meanwhile, pay deep attention. Breathe in the mystery of life. Breathe out gratitude. Nurture peace, cultivate loving kindness, and carry the calm.

Nature of the week:

Shadow of the Week:

If you want me to send these posts and any updates to your email, simply sign up on the right.

If you want to me to send you a calming inspirational thought for the week each Sunday morning, you can sign up at Carry the Calm.

Text and photos © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

{ 1 comment }