Earlier this week I had lunch with a very good friend and, a quite remarkable priest. Life has been difficult, worrying, and tough for my friend recently. Over the course of lunch we were able to share experiences of being worried parents; not simply worried in the normal sense of the term (whatever this means) but, worried in the sense of carrying gut wrenching anxiety over an unknown and fragile future.
My friend asked me what faith means to me in the midst of trial and tribulation; in those times when all seems bleak. In some ways my answer and the ensuing conversation surprised me. I am grateful to my friend for creating the space to allow me to say what I really think, and yes, feel. Friendship, spiritual friendship, is a priceless gift. To be tended to and to tend to another is a very real expression of love (John 21, 15-18).
I found myself saying that over the last few years I have found myself expecting less and less of my faith. Now this might sound shocking, it might even sound like I have a very weak faith; certainly not the strength of faith capable of moving mountains (Mark 11, 23). But, could it mean something else? Could it mean that although my faith is less it is, paradoxically, more? Could it be that a lesser faith is a more sustaining faith? Now I don’t want to curtail God, neither do a want to dismiss the possibility of the miraculous and supernatural but, I think, hope, pray, that my faith isn’t contingent on God pulling off a biggy, and somehow making all things right again.
I also don’t want to prescribe what faith is for others, but for me faith is the precious jewel that affords me the possibility of living, and maybe even living well, with, through and beyond the life events that drag me down and sometimes make me feel that all is conspiring against me. Faith is the the jewel that prevents me from being captive to events and episodes. Faith doesn’t necessarily change things, but it can (and does) change me (and, for sure, not always quickly in in linear progression). Faith’s concern is reality: past reality, present reality, and future reality. Faith is the virtue that is capable of redeeming the past, holding the present, and transforming the future. Faith is the virtue that allows me to live with, through and beyond.
Christain faith cannot, of course, be disaggregated from hope and love. My friend through her questioning reminded me of this. Her question to me was asked from a place of love; love for Jesus and love for me. I hope my answer was given from a place of love; love for Jesus and love for her. Hope, I think, talks to the notion of living beyond those things that bear so heavily on our souls.
Hope is the antidote to a passive Christianised stoicism. Hope doesn’t (for me) mean believing that all will be well, but it does mean that my response to situations might be better. Hope also means believing that whatever happens, we will be graced with glimpses of goodness and glory, that we will, in time, see something of the ‘goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,’ (Psalm 27, 13). Hope also means a belief in the great beyond; that time and place when tears and pain will be no more (Revelation 21, 4).
I somewhat surprised myself in saying that I expected less and less of my faith and whether, by expecting less, worried that I had succumbed to some form of fatalistic Christian Stoicism, so I was delighted to read the following in Roderick Strange’s book ‘Newman; the Heart of Holiness;’
‘It (faith) calls for more than stubborn endurance. It must rather encourage a readiness to plant generosuly the tree of the cross in our own hearts so as to let it put down deep roots……..Fidelity is the key, by embracing hardship generosuly and remaining faithful as Newman did, we may discover and bear witness to the way disaster may be turned into triumph.’
Life is very often painful, deeply so, but (speaking personally) stripped of faith, even a lesser faith, I simply wouldn’t have what it takes to live, and occasionally live well, with, through and beyond pain, worry and anxiety.
O Lord grant me a lesser faith, a deeper love, and a surer hope.