Keeping the Faith
Like me, do you sometimes find yourself calling out to the cosmos, “What next?” Tornadoes and a worldwide pandemic, racial injustice, political discord, financial insecurity, cancer everywhere, just the regular hiccups that come with being human and in relationships with other human beings. All of it threatening to upset our equilibrium and peace.
Recently, someone I admire said, “My faith is saving me right now.” An alarm resounded in me. Is my faith saving me right now too? Whew!
Spoiler alert: There is not a one-size-fits-all definition for “faith” in Webster’s Dictionary, because faith is mysterious, ever-evolving, and truly personal. But my efforts are not in vain, because I sense that faith is something we will spend our entire earthly lives working out or, better said, living into the definition.
Faith begins with a twinkling suspicion deep within us that there is more here than meets the eye. A creative and redemptive presence is in charge, and a wondrous spiritual reality permeates everything. Even with leaps and bounds in scientific advancement, there is still no tangible proof of its existence, nor its power. Even our clever imagination struggles to fully grasp it. But our souls just know it. Kahlil Gibran said,
“Faith is a knowledge within the heart beyond the reach of proof.”
It is experienced as a longing for something more. I am convinced it is a longing for the eternal while we are sojourned in the temporal. Sadly, sometimes we ignore it, or the secular world silences it, or we lose our courage in times like these to trust it.
In praxis, faith is a disciplined effort to connect with that which is larger than ourselves, our circumstances, our fears, and our mortality, and to find grounding and peace for our souls in their short stay here on earth. Faith, as I understand it, is a personal and intimate relationship between my soul and God — a “love pact,” if you will, that invariably informs who I am, how I move in the world, and how I love.
The largeness of my faith depends entirely on the degree to which I trust God. And that changes! At its best, faith infuses me with the peace I need, you need, to handle life’s fragility and daily defeats. It calls forth the best in us and sets us on a trajectory to live a life that is full, deep, and sacred. The challenge is how to keep the faith when we don’t know up from down, the corset of worry tightens around our spirits, and we are genuinely afraid of what tomorrow holds!
My spirit has always been drawn to Paul’s two-part definition of Christian faith found in Hebrews 11:1. He believed faith was the assurance of what we all deeply hope for: perfect love and endless mercy, healing and wholeness, redemption, and life everlasting. All things this world has no power or authority to give us. Next he says, “Faith is a certainty of what we cannot see.” Paul was well aware that not all of us would get a blinding Damascus epiphany or be invited to touch Jesus’ wounds like Thomas, but he also knew we needed faith like we needed oxygen if we were going to not only endure but prevail in this life. So we would have to figure out how to trust in what we cannot see. The moment Paul trusted God and commended his spirit to the miraculous, he began to see the world as God sees the world: so full of possibility, beauty, and hope. His life took on great import. And best of all, he found peace. This is the “mysterium tremendum” of faith, and God is offering it to us in this moment, every moment.
The kicker is faith is not an easy Sunday afternoon walk in the park. Jesus’ words to his disciple Thomas, “Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believe,” expose the great spiritual challenge of faith. Faith hinges on trust. And I confess I struggle with that! Street smarts tell us not to trust something or someone without proof of worth. Our intellects like black-and-white data, the hypothesis to be solved nice and neat. The reality is most of us struggle with keeping the faith, especially during challenging times with no end in sight. And it feels like God has pulled an Elvis and left the building.
I’ve misplaced my faith as many times as I have found it. It was a relief to me years ago when I read Mother Teresa’s surprising confession of lifelong bouts of doubt in her book, Come Be My Light. For years she prayed to what felt like a black void and received no assurance or comfort. And the poverty and gross inequality in the slums where she worked seemed to grow worse instead of better despite her devotion and best efforts. And nevertheless, she kept the faith. This gives me hope. She didn’t experience faith as rainbows and fireworks. It was often lonely determination with little reward. Anne Lamott once said, “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” Often faith is experienced as Mother Teresa’s: an internal tug-of-war of belief and unbelief. Authentic faith includes doubt, disillusionment, and disappointment. Mother Teresa never threw in the towel. She put one foot in front of the other and committed to loving God and her neighbor as best as she could. Now, that is the definition of living in faith!
In seasons of natural disasters, pandemics, and mind and body struggle, I find myself at times secretly worrying if trusting God will be enough. There is no denying that fear and self-reliance pose the greatest threat to faith. And although it makes absolutely no sense, the secular world thrives on keeping us in fear, and then preaching to us that we can be our own saviors. Authentic faith will always be plagued with doubt. We flounder. We are not God. It’s the reason God gave us Jesus to mirror how to handle the impossible challenge of being human. The choreography of one step forward in belief and two steps back in doubt is “The Dance.” For me, faith is not an achievement or even a destination, but a lifelong discovery and falling in love with God’s mind and heart. I’m not afraid of doubt. What I am afraid of is living a lukewarm spiritual existence.
Thankfully, the interior, secret longing remains. It never leaves us. The soul will forever crave the transcendent, the glorious — the presence of God. Faith demands grit from us and grace on God’s part. Faith has to be more than a set of beliefs or prescriptions for moral living; it must be as Paul said, how we live, move, and find our being in this world. Frederick Buechner said, “When faith stops changing and growing, it dies on its feet.” I think this is our work today. Faith, by design, is meant to expand and evolve. More than just a life preserver here on earth, it’s our ticket to living a life that is deep, full, and consequential to the whole. I commend to you J.R.R. Tolkien’s illuminating lines in our family favorite, The Lord of the Rings: “The Road goes ever on and on. And I must follow, if I can. Pursuing it with eager feet. Until it joins some larger way.” I don’t know about you, but I yearn to find the larger way!
Lean into the words of Father Thomas Keating, who said,
“It is never too late to start the spiritual journey or start over,
and it is worth starting over any number of times.”
I don’t know where you are today in regard to your faith journey; maybe doubt is having its way with you, or you are just hanging on, or maybe you have found yourself in this season tucked secure under God’s wing. Regardless, I think we have the opportunity to make this the year our faith grew!
I remind you what Paul said: Wherever you are, whatever happens, regardless of life’s circumstances, never forget that the spirit of God is in you. Which I translate to mean: You and I are going to be more than OK. The invisible fibers of faith, stronger than spider’s silk, run through us. They were designed to stretch when life stretches us and prove steely in response to our fragility. God gave us each other to walk the path and discover the larger way together. We keep the faith together!