Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Faith

On Faith

In the study of the world’s religions one of the first things they all grapple with is some version of the most basic question: Where are we? This is a way of getting at what we rather casually call “the human condition.” It is one of the first questions God asks the first man and first woman in the garden as they attempt to hide from God, ashamed of having disobeyed his command not to eat of the tree: “Where are you?”

That seems rather odd. Is it possible that God did not know where they were? Or, is God calling us to acknowledge where we are? I rather imagine it is both/and. Looking over the events of the past several weeks in our nation’s capital I can imagine even God trying to understand where we are, how we have gotten here, what has pushed us to be right here right now. And, I can imagine God calling us out to acknowledge where we are and how we have gotten to this point – a place where people who are hurting so badly inside see no way out other than acting out violently – a place where elected officials of all stripes have lost sight of what we once called “the common good” and can think only of their own narcissistic political strategies for some future election, or some commitment to one dogma or another with seemingly little regard for any of the rest of us.

We sometimes think of these ancient stories as hopelessly old-fashioned and archaic, and yet, at some dimension within ourselves we are all asking the question, “Where are we?” Perhaps even more, we wish someone beyond ourselves would stop us and pleadingly ask us, “Where are you?”

So one day the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” - Luke 17:5-6 (NRSV)

Not exactly the response they or we are hoping for. What is the matter with him, they no doubt asked themselves. We want practical faith. There is no way we can get trees to obey our commands. Well, he might reply, now you know how God might feel about us. But here is the surprise: Despite what a mess of things you have made, God loves you. Even despite your doubts. As one of my messengers Frederick Beuchner will put it one of these days, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” Just keep moving on this journey together we call Faith.

When I first undertook acupuncture treatments for a neck injury years and years ago, I discovered a book by Diane Connelly titled, All Sickness Is Home Sickness. The idea behind it was in fact inspired by the Blessed Augustine who writes in his Confessions that our hearts are restless “until we find our home in Thee.” We are on a journey that has taken us far from our true  home. We find ourselves somehow separated from our true home. This makes us restless, uneasy – and when this restlessness is no longer grounded in some kind of faith, we find ourselves doing things, as Saint Paul so eloquently puts it, that “I would rather not do, and not doing the things I should want to do.”

So whether your faith is that there is a god or there is not a god, the good news is you do have faith! Therein lies a mustard seed of hope. The mysterious and unknown author of the epistle with the name Hebrews has this to say about faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” -Hebrews 11:1 (RSV) So as we continue to journey through this world, a world that so many of us want to escape, faith has the capacity to enable us to have some assurance that things we cannot see at present may very well hold the key to bringing us home. Again, Beuchner has said, “Faith is a journey, trusting that it will lead us home.” That is, as Hebrews reminds us, faith leads to a kind of hope that we are in fact on a journey that leads us home – which for many of us means a return to that place from whence we come – the heart of God’s eternal love.

It is when things get desperate, when things get stressed to the breaking point that the kind of hope that faith engenders begins to bend and even break. The old patterns and rituals seem ineffective in holding faith and hope together. A kind of chaotic depression begins to settle in and take over the way we see, hear and experience this journey called life. We call this stress.

Last week a woman came to speak to the girls at St. Tim’s. She observed that research has shown that when things reach some level of stress, there are three things, three strategies, three ways of “being,” that can relieve the stress and put us back on track: Mindfulness Meditation, Compassion, and Hope.

Mindfulness Meditation goes by many names: Centering Prayer, Transcendental Meditation, Sitting Zazen, and so on. It is really a practice that requires us to stop: stop doing, stop thinking, stop worrying, simply stop – sit, breathe, close your eyes, and let go. Such stopping has the capacity to break the cycles of stress, reset our faith and our hope, and put us back on a journey that we trust is leading us home again.

Compassion is that practice that takes us beyond ourselves and places our attention on the needs of others. It is the awareness that I am not the only one who is stressed here. And it is very possible that my experience of stress gives me the capacity to understand what troubles others, even just one other, and that I might hold the key to relieving their stress. Often we discover that in helping others, or simply being present to their distress, just being with them holds the key to relieving our own stress.

Finally, Hope is that dimension of faith that urges us to press on, trusting that, as Julian of Norwich assures us, “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.” For those of us who have journeyed along the Judeo-Christian path, our sense of Hope is buoyed by our accepting that we are loved by Love.

The question for all of us is, “Where are you?” Are we in a place where we allow ourselves to stop doing, stop thinking, stop worrying and just accept the news that we are loved by Love? Are we in a place where we can stop and take the time to place our attention on the stress and suffering of others? Are we in a place where we allow ourselves to maintain a sense of Hope, a sense of direction, and a sense of trusting that faith, whatever our faith may be, will lead us home?

Years ago, reflecting on all of this I wrote the following song. I sometimes forget to sing it. I often forget that I even wrote it! Yet, here it is, a living reminder to myself that we do not need big, huge gobs of faith. It is as our Lord says, OK if you only have a teeny, tiny bit of faith as small as a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds that when planted and tended can grow into a great shrub capable of adding new and fresh flavors to this journey we call life which is really a life of homecoming – a coming home to the household of Love, the heart of God’s eternal love.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
You can take trees and hurl them in the sea

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
The lame will walk and the blind will see

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
Wars will cease with the end of greed

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
As you sow you shall receive

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
As you pray you will believe

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
Trust in the Lord, He’ll supply every need

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed/
As you follow Christ you’ll begin to lead

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed
If you only have faith, as small as a mustard seed

No comments:

Post a Comment