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.

A Lot of Choices

I just activated a new credit card, and the helpful, robotic voice on the other end of the line said, “Thank you for using [our bank]. We know you have a lot of choices.”

We do have a lot of choices, and I often confuse the important ones with the unimportant. Should I push the snooze alarm? Can I wear brown boots with a black jacket? Will I miss the van if I take the time to put on lotion? And that’s just the first hour of the day.

When I got back from China, I was overwhelmed by the entire aisle of salad dressings in the typical American grocery store and the immense selection of deli meats. I almost ran away without my meat when the kind person behind the counter asked me whether I wanted cheese with that.

Because we experience such an onslaught of this type of decision every day, it’s easy to confuse the trivial with the essential. Even those decisions that often seem the biggest—what house to buy, what job to take—will not shape our lives as profoundly as the essential choices, as in, having to do with the essence of things.

Some true choices we face every day:

  • Will I practice forgiveness?
  • Will I be kind?
  • Will I be patient?
  • Will I do whatever I am doing with love?
  • Will I listen to my mental tapes of self-destructive messages?
  • Will I accept help?
  • Will I let others love me?
  • Will I believe that there is something bigger and more hopeful than I can see at this moment?

The list goes on, of course, but our attention to this kind of question truly determines how alive we are. It is so, so hard to believe this in a culture that constantly asks us to quantify ourselves based on whether we selected ham or turkey. Clearly, there was a right one and a wrong one and we better have picked the turkey.

Personally, I answer “occasionally” or “sometimes” to most of the above list, and those may remain my answers until I die. But that’s not important either. What’s important is to keep asking the real questions.

Rolling On

Though both Steven Tyler and Ralph Waldo Emerson buy into the life is a journey concept, I have always preferred to reach the destination. Never mind that the writing of a novel lasts ten years and the finishing of it but a moment. Who wants to be quietly happy for ten years when she can have her existence justified in one grand flourish? This weekend, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself occasionally enjoying a process, namely painting.

I am neither a skilled nor a speedy painter, a reality that once would have caused me great emotional and mental turmoil. Now, though my lack of speed in many areas still astonishes me, I don’t always find it necessary to bludgeon myself because of it. Loosening the death grip on perfectionistic tendencies appears to make life less painful.

The breakthrough came when my mom and I had stopped for a pie break. I was mentally cataloging everything that remained to be painted when Mom began telling stories of when I was a baby. Apparently I used to make a little three-fingered Buddha sign sometimes when I fell asleep.

When she told me that, I thought, “Sitting on the patio eating pie and listening to your mom tell stories is more valuable than a professional paint job.”

I usually reply to myself, “The trim I painted looks like crap.” Instead I said, “You are probably right.”

Several times throughout the course of the weekend I believed that doing whatever I was doing, regardless of how poorly, mattered more than some as yet unrealized result. I don’t know where this ability to value the here and now came from, but I do know it resulted in a general lowering of the frenzy level.

So let’s look at the stats:

  • Electrical plates remaining to be reattached: all of them
  • Door knobs that escaped unscathed: 0
  • Spots I completely missed (current count): 2
  • Days I will feel guilty for locking my cat in the garage for three days straight: varies inversely to the number of times he draws blood
  • Walls that probably need another coat of paint: 1
  • Degrees lighter and cheerier the downstairs feels with fresh paint: immeasurable
  • Changes in the “my life may be OK as is” meter: a few priceless notches up