Faith and Insecurity

votive candles burning in the darkness by Mike Labrum from unsplash - faith in the darkness

Faith in Love

What do you have faith in?

When I ask myself that question, the first thing that comes to mind is that I have faith in life itself. I have faith in our resilience as a species, and in the resilience of the earth to revive, no matter what we do to her. That doesn’t make acceptable the abuse of one another and destruction of our habitat, but I do believe in the power of life to revive itself again.

Next, I think of love. My faith in love is unwavering. Even though hate seems rampant right now, and even though at times in my life I tried to love others out of their hatred and emptiness, and failed, I still believe that love is the only answer. Only love can eradicate hate. Only love can bring us out of the darkness.votive candles burning in the darkness by Mike Labrum from unsplash - faith in the darkness

Faith Out of Partial Truths

I suppose I’m naive. Maybe I’m dogmatic.

In his book “The Song of the Bird,” Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello highlights our human propensity to make “religions” out of any bit of wisdom or truth. One day, for instance, the Devil was out walking with a friend. (Who’d have thought the Devil would have friends?)

They saw a man stoop down and pick something up from the sidewalk. It turned out the object was a piece of the Truth.

The friend thought the Devil would be upset by a human finding some of the Truth.The Devil, however, was unconcerned. “I’ll let him make a religion out of it,” he said.

Have I made a religion out of my faith in love?

Faith and Death

The other day, I was paged to the hospital to meet with a dying man. He was alert, oriented to self and place, and able to share stories of his life. He spoke of his childhood, of his longing to live long enough to help his girlfriend get stable. Then he spoke about his fear that maybe he’d chosen the wrong religion, after all, and would end up in hell.

I had no certainty to offer him. Yes, I believe that if there is a heaven, everyone’s going there, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, so I felt confident this man before me would find his place in that heavenly realm. Yet telling him that wouldn’t have made it true for him.

So I helped him struggle with the question himself. He told me about what his pastor said, he quoted Bible passages, and he shared wisdom from his father. In the end, he convinced himself that he his was the right religion, after all. Though he would regret leaving his girlfriend when he died, at least he felt secure in the knowledge that he was going to heaven.

We might say he had made a religion out of a piece of the truth. But why not? Dying can be a fearful thing, and if his justifications brought him a bit of comfort and peace, was that not okay?

Insecurity, Discomfort, and Truth

De Mello tells of a traveller who goes into a shop that sells Truths. In a back room, he finds “the whole truth” for sale, but when he learns how expensive it is, he leaves without buying it. What is the price? The cost of “the whole truth” is no less than our comfort and peace of mind.

Could the dying man have glimpsed some part of that “whole” truth? Had his anxiety increased because of it? Was he unable to tolerate the discomfort he felt? Few of us could.

Which is important to remember. In the introduction to his book, de Mello warns us that we should not apply these stories to others. We are the ones who cannot face the Truth in its entirety. We are the ones for whom a bit of the truth is enough. Without even thinking, we take that little piece, analyze it and expand it, until we’ve created entire theological systems and rigid rituals. Even when we think we are open and affirming, we judge and condemn. We feed our addictions, proclaim righteousness, and use the sage’s wisdom to critique others instead of ourselves.

Finding Faith in Dark Times

These days, as our country seethes in uncertainty and anger, faith can be hard to find. Yet I still manage to see it. Faith is there, for instance, in the statement written to Mike Pence by those who created, produced, and acted in the musical “Hamilton.” The words, read by actor Brandon Victor Dixon, thanked the Vice-President elect for attending the performance. The statement shared the trepidation many of us feel right now and expressed hope that the show would have “inspired [Pence] to uphold our American values.”

I find faith in our country’s compassionate and impassioned response to the threat of an authoritarian government, from Sojourner’s “10 Commitments of Resistance in the Trump Era” to “Stopping the ‘Muslim Registry’: A Serious Approach” by Samir Chopra to Obama Loyalists Plot Trump Resistance.”

Faith in the Fabric of Our Lives

At home, I find faith in the activities of my daily life. When I walk beneath the trees, when I mindfully chop onions and saute zucchini, sweep the floor, sit with my cat, snuggle with my husband, pray and look at the moon, I feel alive and loved and whole. This gives me faith.

My work brings me faith, as well. When Sandy and I visit the prison every other Friday, I experience that deep connection that is faith. We sit with the prisoners, bring them quotes and songs, and we listen to their thoughts and witness their desire to figure out how to be whole and sane in a world that oppresses them so mightily. At the hospital, when I hold grieving family members or honor the sadness of an addict whose life has shattered, I find faith. Some days, I even feel affirmed in my faith in God.

Our Longing for Security

None of this, though, brings me security. When I become rigid in my religion, when I believe the illusion that I am safe behind my locked door, then I feel secure. Life is not made for security. Life is made for laughter and loneliness and loss; for birthing and building and celebration and death. When we embrace life, we embrace uncertainty and insecurity. Those bits of truth we pick up here and there are temptations. We long to feel peaceful and comfortable, so we weave our bits of truth into a story that makes us feel better.

How can we, instead, acknowledge and sit with our anxiety and sadness? Where do we find the love we need to step forward and risk change? Love speaks truth to power. Love stands up against fear and judgment. More than anything, I have faith in love. How do I keep from feeding my need for security by making a religion out of my bit of truth?

I look to a wisdom within my heart, a wisdom that dwells within the universe, a wisdom I might call God, knowing that I will never see “the whole truth.” In that wisdom, I hope to find the truth and courage and compassion I need to keep going in spite of fear, in spite of insecurity and discomfort.

In faith and fondness,

Barbara

Photo Credits: by Mike Labrum from Unsplash