I’m a funny person with a funny mind. The word, faith, is all over the place. Even in rock songs. It can describe an entire church, as in faith community; or it can refer to an assigned hope, as in, have faith. It’s mostly a noun. A something. One of those “idea” nouns (as opposed to names of people, places, and things).
It’s not surprising to see it in all sorts of book titles. Kind of like seeing the word “new” or “improved” on soap detergents at the supermarket.
I won’t go so far as to say that the word, faith, has come to mean nothing. It’s just that I’m a funny person with a funny mind. I’m a scientific mystic. To me, concepts are pieces of formulas to God’s wonder.
To me, faith is the key to the second realm of God, the realm of surrender (when God gives you something that you don’t want, but have no choice but to accept it). The realm of pain and suffering. The realm where we all become mired down.
So as I was talking about this with someone the other day, I said that I had been taught that faith was the act of, after having hung on to the mast of your boat in a raging storm, you let go. You have faith.
And he said, isn’t the hanging on in the first place faith also?
And I agreed. Mostly, to be honest, to be polite and respectful. I didn’t really think it over until I got home. (I never do. Think on the spot. Too risky. Just nod and agree. And smile.)
And it is, really. The hanging on in the midst of the storm. The bailing out of the boat. Making sure the oars don’t go overboard even though the sea is too rough to paddle in.
And I thought about this: hanging on, letting go. The storm is there, in front of you. You have no choice but to face it. And so you bring to the situation an inactive action. Or, perhaps, an active inaction. A revving passivity.
It’s all you can do.
But it’s funny how when you walk around in life, the term, faith, pokes into you like too many elbows in too small a space.
And I think about the storm, and want to cry out, let faith mean something, will you? But who am I to take away someone else’s definition?
And so I started to think of the time after the storm. The time when Noah had to look down and realize that he had to begin the world all over again, with nothing at hand except what he brought with him.
Isn’t that faith also? The act of planting seeds when its your own tears that water them?
The desert after the storm. Those pictures of the Midwest after the tornado. The death of both parents in a car accident. The loss of a job.
Perhaps that is what faith is also: breathing when there is no more air left.
Just keeping the lungs going in and out even though you have to force the gesture.
It’s praying when there is no more God left in your heart.
I know that place. I remember that place.
The terror had made itself known. The horror had set in. And I turned my back, ever so slightly, but just enough so that God was no longer in front of me, where he had always been.
Moved to the side.
Moved out of focus.
I tried to confess this, to get absolution. But even that didn’t work.
I think even the attempt to confess this sin was faith. Faith to go on.
Even though there was no God there to go on to.
The vast wasteland of heartbreak.
Sometimes it is in the middle of the furor of waiting through the storm, waiting for the winds to die down and the tree limbs to stop hurling themselves around like batons in the middle of a football game, that becomes the place where we can recognize our faith.
Perhaps it’s in the silence that follows that our faith gets lost.
I realized that it is here, in the quiet of our tears, that it’s easy to see what is not faith. It’s the shrugging of the shoulders and telling ourselves, ah, yes, this is life.
This loss is all that my life is now. All that I am worth.
It’s a giving in to the sorrow without even realizing that we have done it.
Faith, then, would again be a verb. An action. But an active action this time.
The picking up of the dishcloth and doing the stack of dishes that has been waiting. The reading of the book to our children before bedtime. The sweeping the leaves off the porch.
It’s the having to say no to the circumstances that we find ourselves in that can eat away at our sense of being connected to love, of understanding that it is always with us.
In the storm, the need for faith is before us.
After the storm, we have to remind ourselves of our need for faith. It’s here that faith becomes the blanket of God’s love that wraps the soul, the reassuring hand that rubs the back.
I think the true meaning of faith is beyond our grasp most of the time. We may think we know it, get it, have a grip on it. But when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, do we really fear no evil? Do we really feel comfort?
Perhaps, here too, there is the process of hanging on and letting go: we hang on to our lives as we know we have to do, and we let go of the anger and sorrow that fills our hearts.