Moving in Faith

When I sit down to blog, I often have no idea what the subject will be. I’ve slowly learned that I don’t need to know, that something will come along that will surprise me, that as I write, some deeply held truth will work its way into consciousness for the first time.

I don’t generally approach my days with this same comfortable not-knowing. I tend to view the day as a to-do list rather than a revelation of divine love and an invitation to participate in that love. With a to-do list, I can pretend to be in control. Showing up to a divine love party requires that openness called faith.

In her book Abounding in Kindness, Elizabeth Johnson says, “faith is first of all an existential decision rising up from your personal depths to entrust yourself to the Whither of your life, the living God.” Faith is a decision to trust.

To entrust ourselves to anyone or anything, including God, “to put [ourselves] into someone’s care or protection,” as the dictionary defines it, seems like a dicey proposition. God doesn’t appear to be in the protection business. There are those times when we improbably and uncannily emerge safe from the midst of danger, and then there is sickness, war, school shootings, hurricanes.

God’s presence, God’s unwavering care in the midst of all that is incomprehensible and painful is what we must choose to trust. “God protects us from nothing and sustains us in all things,” Jim Finley says.

Without this trust, we cannot enter the fullness of our lives. Johnson calls God the Whither of our lives because God is our destination, “that ineffable plenitude toward which we are journeying.” The Divine Love draws us toward itself and places our feet on the road, “summons and bears our thirsty minds and desiring hearts.”

Trust allows us to follow that summons, to recognize the divine love party for what it is and know that every moment we are both already in the presence of and traveling closer to our Host.


Note: The Elizabeth Johnson quotes were taken from the essay “Atheism and Faith in a Secular World,” pp. 20-34.

Trusting Solstice to Solstice

On the solstice, the year’s high tide of light, I was reminded of the ebb and flow of our existence. This longest day, the peak of the wave, is also the beginning of the fading of the light.

I love the fullness of summer, the long days, the bounty and spectacle of fruits of all colors. I love the swooping and diving of the swallows who built their nests under the eaves of a nearby building and their little heads peeking out of the holes, keeping watch. Summer is a time for savoring some of the sweetest gifts of life, and its arrival began with the winter solstice.

I often forget nature’s rhythm or try to live as if I could choose to be apart from it, as if force of will could keep the wave of productivity ever cresting. As if this were somehow desirable.

If we try to skip our own ebb times—hours, days, or seasons—it’s so much harder for the fruitfulness naturally growing within us to fully ripen. We are so convinced that we have to do something, to work hard to become what we are supposed to be, but life is working within and around us to draw forth and bring into being who we are.

This process of becoming is not so much up to us as we think. We can’t hurry it along any more than swallows can build their nests in winter.

Allowing our own ebb and flow requires trusting life. There are so many reasons not to trust—chronic sickness, war, cruelty of all kinds—but perhaps the deepest reason is that we do not believe in our own divinity, that who we are becoming is beautiful and beloved.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Our culture tells us hundreds if not thousands of times a day that love depends on performance and appearance when anyone who has loved another person, animal, or plant can tell you that this is fundamentally untrue. We love the dog’s floppy ear, and we often love our friends most tenderly when they’re struggling.

Summer and winter, ebb and flow, the Life and Love that lives through us sees that we are dazzling.

Faith in What?

I was listening Tracy Chapman’s song “Heaven’s Here on Earth” while wondering about the fate of the world, and her phrase “faith in humankind” jumped out at me. What a radical idea that is.

Faith is not an easy or a reasonable thing. The news tells us 24/7 that humanity is an unreliable mess. Society recommends trusting constant acquisition of stuff and status instead.

Jesus, on the other hand, had tremendous faith in humanity. Who in his right mind would say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”? What was Jesus thinking? This is the guy who fell asleep in the garden and went on to deny Jesus three times and run away. But Peter’s also the one who recognized the Christ: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus called Zacchaeus, not exactly a model citizen, down from the tree. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. That shows tremendous faith. He didn’t overlook what they’d done before, who they’d shown themselves to be up until then, he looked beyond it. He didn’t ignore the evidence against them but was willing to look at all the evidence in their favor.

What did he see?

He must have seen himself. He must have seen their divinity.

According to a reflection by Jim Finley, “Thomas Merton says there is that in you that no one [including you] can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God.” At the same time, we are literally made of this Earth. Everything we are and have comes from the Earth.

These are not contradictory ideas—these are two reasons for hope, for faith in humankind. We are not earthly or divine interlopers. As one of the products of billions of years of evolution, we belong on this sacred planet, as Brian Swimme points out.

“Heaven’s here on Earth in our faith in humankind,” Chapman’s song reminds us. Faith in our ability to love and to change, in our intimate connection to creation, in the reality of God dwelling within us.

 

“Everything in the World is Waiting”

Astonishing freedom is available to us all the time. Really, I’m not making it up. As William Stafford writes in “A Message from the Wanderer,”

…Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

This week, the transformation of a simple question pointed toward one escape route: trust. Pulling into my garage one night, I thought to myself about some aspect of life, “What am I doing?” in a mental voice tinged with a Pig-Pen-like cloud of despair. Then I heard the question repeated in an excited, joyful tone, as if the asker couldn’t wait to discover what wonderful thing I was about to do.

Many of our social and religious constructs teach us to deeply mistrust ourselves. They subtly say that we must be hyper vigilant to prevent ourselves from running amuck, as if our failings were just waiting for that one relaxed moment to rise up and overpower us.

While healthy self-reflection is necessary for growth, we need to remember that we’re made in the image and likeness of God and to consider what that means. We have our weaknesses, but we are manifestations of God’s abundant love, of God’s abundant self, and though it feels risky, we can trust that Ground of our being.

God is not waiting to smite us. God is loving us into existence with every breath and heartbeat, as Jim Finley says. God’s love is our true nature, and it is infinitely trustworthy. The more we know this to be true, the more we will trust ourselves and the more we will embody that trustworthiness in all our relationships.

We are going to mess up. We will almost certainly hurt one another by acting unconsciously or from a place of fear, but those mistakes don’t define us. “Nothing less than love has the power to name who you are,” Finley says.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Everything in the world really is waiting. And it’s so excited to meet us.

Trusting the Present

During a recent run, my mind decided it, too, needed a workout, but it preferred to travel the same loop over and over again. I spent a lot of time bringing myself back to the present, which was a mostly pleasant place to be. I felt my feet hitting the ground, the warm air, the presence of the oak trees around me. But now and then, after dragging myself off the hamster wheel, I sensed a moment of definite fear.

What was so scary? I was in a safe place—except perhaps for the mountain lions, but I had never actually seen them—on a trail through some beautiful country. I was healthy enough to be running. No one in my life had any particular or imminent problems.

Stopping underneath an oak to spend some time with the question, I realized that, with my mind in the present, I had no idea what came next. If we live here now, we have to live in the reality that we don’t control a moment of our existence. We can and need to prepare and plan to exist in this world, but not a single day entirely matches the picture in our heads.

To live this way requires an immense amount of trust, not that everything will go right—whatever that means—but that, as Jim Finley puts it, “God sustains us in all things while protecting us from nothing.” Life will happen whether we’re living in the present or not, but we choose how to respond. If we’re living from a place of trust in that which sustains us, we can respond in a way that is life-giving.

But this is really, really hard because there’s not much room for who we think we are or who we want to be in that kind of trust. It demands an openness to discovering ourselves rather than an attempt to dictate our identity. When we’re in discovery mode, we can see ourselves as God does, as divinity becoming creation, as process.

Our own vision is much more static and limited. It feels safer because it’s familiar, but it can’t take us where we’re going; it doesn’t bring us into being. That journey requires faith and trust—and I’m sure a little bit of pixie dust wouldn’t hurt.

Warning: Prophet Ahead

Habakkuk is one of the more succinct prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. He thinks the world is pretty much of a disaster at the time he’s writing. I’d summarize his brief story this way:

Habakkuk: WTF? Seriously?

God: Wait for it.

Here’s the thing, God doesn’t say that Habakkuk (let’s call him HK from now on) is waiting for a five star meal and a cushy retirement. At the end of the book, HK basically says, even though I might starve, “I will rejoice in the Lord.”

What could inspire someone to say that? No fruit, no olives, no flock, no herd—not usually the moment people throw their hands in the air and shout, “Hallelujah!” But that’s what HK says he’s planning to do, no matter what.

HK is apparently a little more stable than I am. Some things that throw me off of the whole rejoicing in the Lord thing with remarkable ease and blistering speed: missing a deadline at work, wondering what my purpose in the world is, letting food spoil in the fridge (yes, seriously, planetary destruction starts with one rotten jicama).

Abraham Heschel suggests that HK sensed God and so encountered “infinite goodness, infinite wisdom, infinite beauty” (The Prophets, p. 183). That sounds good. I could go for that, preferably not while starving.

HK would tell me to get over the “preferably” part, that starving or not starving is not the most important thing. That doesn’t mean God wants us to starve. It does mean there’s something else going on all the time that we’re often not paying attention to.

Jim Finley says, “God protects us from nothing while sustaining us in all things.” According to that master of etymology dictionary.com, “sustain” comes from a word that meant “hold” or “uphold.” We are held in goodness, wisdom, and beauty all the time, regardless of our outer circumstances, regardless of whether or not we notice.

I react to this idea with resistance, but think how much it might transform our lives if we really, really believed it, if we took HK seriously. That’s why you have to watch out for prophets.

Hard and True

Jim Finley often counsels “keep[ing] faith with your newly awakened heart.” It sounds abstract, but I experienced it as practical advice this week.

Finley has a few examples of moments that awaken our hearts: “a flock of birds descending, seeing children when they’re really children.” I’m not sure what it was for me this week—the blooming jacaranda trees, a feeling of playfulness that resulted from a spontaneous trip to In ‘n Out—but there was a time when creation felt porous, as if the things we consider insides and outsides are separated by much less than we usually think, by something more akin to a cell wall than a cement one.

Then there comes the time to sit back down at the computer at work or read the news, and it is suddenly very difficult to believe in what a few moments ago was readily apparent. This is where the being faithful comes in.

It might help to admit first that it’s hard to do. It’s hard to remember that the jacaranda trees matter when there are Things to Get Done. It’s hard to believe that existence is evolving toward a greater consciousness of love while watching the news.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. We’re being asked to keep faith not with something abstract and far away but with something we’ve felt deeply. These experiences are every bit as real as those we see on the news. We don’t need to choose one over the other; we only need to trust the reality of our own path through life.

Everything is harder when we first start doing it, from walking to using power tools to trusting our hearts. Practice helps. Community helps. Remembering that we will fail again and again but that it doesn’t really matter because creation is there waiting for us to join in the fun helps, too.