Last week I returned to preaching after an unexpected week away. My wife, Dana, had a stroke in the early hours of the previous Sunday. Someone at church stopped to talk to me and said how moved she was that I still believed in the light of another struggle.
She is right, you know. Faith can be such a fragile thing. Our faith in others, in institutions are sometimes destroyed in an instant. For those of us who believe in God and who place our trust in our Divine Parent faith can be a tenuous thing.
Why do we believe – or don’t? Most people I know believe in something or someone. In God. In America. In science. In a spouse. In reason. In themselves. I have read a number of articles that discuss this phenomenon (here’s a more recent one – Science Explains Why Our Brains May Be ‘Hardwired’ for God ). It seems to be human is to believe. The churches and mosques and synagogues of today are testimony to this reality but so are the cave paintings of thousands of years ago.
The question with which I wrestle at this moment of my life is why do I believe? Why do I have faith – in God, in certain ideals and principles, in people? When I look at the world around me I see plenty of reasons to believe… and plenty not. When I think about the most recent years of my life and ministry, I have experienced the best of human beings’ faith… and the worst (at least in my limited and sheltered existence). I have seen God in holy, precious moments. I have been stunned by events and actions that have left me, to be honest, all but bereft of that same faith.
So this week I am beginning a series of reflections on faith. I don;t think there were easy answers – or faith would be easy. I don’t think some of – many of – the trite answers we who believe give are helpful. So what does it mean to believe? For me to do so???
Although I am unsure he is entirely right, here are some words from the venerable Thomas Aquinas to ponder:
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
This morning our youngest and I attended his junior high orientation (wasn’t he just going to kindegarten last week???). For him and us – and thousands of families across the country – summer yields to fall. There are still some days left and Labor Day is weeks away. But summer is ending and autumn is looming. Which gladdens my heart since fall is my favorite time of the year.
The seasons come and go, begin and end, regardless of our will or want. The rhythms of the year continue without concern for anyone’s convenience or preparation. We plan and respond but don’t control or manage when they come.
For much of my spiritual (and human) life I have functioned under the assumption that I am in control. Even in the seasons of life when I am seeking God’s direction and attempting to yield to the Divine Will, I am the one who yields and seeks. I wonder today if that isn’t quite right. Just as there are seasons of life and of the year, so are there seasons of the spirit. And they may not have much – anything – to do with how I respond or what I am seeking or planning.
Certainly the dryness in my spiritual journey is sometimes my own doing (or not doing). My obedience to God’s will influences how I experience and perceive what life throws at me. But just as every year contains a winter, so every spiritual journey has times of cold and death. Every autumn brings a marvelous transition from summer… every high season of the spirit also transitions to a time of calm and reflection and harvest.
Jesus says in Acts 1:7 “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.” He speaks here to the disciples about his promised return but I think his words apply here as well. I am seeking to discern what season of the spirit God is bringing now or ending now or continuing in me until its work is done. What season does your journey of faith find you experiencing?
Usually something grabs me early in the week and by Friday I am ready to write a bit about it. Not this week. I was tempted to just not post anything this week. Believe it or not, some folks mention when I don’t post something so I know someone notices!
As I think about this, I realize that sometimes we think we need to be profound or thought-provoking or insightful. The truth is most of the time I – we – don’t have anything deep to say. Nothing provocative to think aloud.
I remember being a child in the summer and about this time of the season I would say to my mom – and to anyone who would listen – “I’m bored.” My son does and says the same thing. Our need to be profound all of the time may spring from the same boredom. We need to be saying something that will move people.
Much of life is boring. Same thing for ministry. And faith. It’s the sometime boring, monotonous disciplines of life and faith that matter. Someone has said integrity is what you do when no one is looking. Perhaps life is what we live when no one notices. And the thoughts that matter are the ones that no one will ever hear and if they did wouldn’t care.
“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 CEB)
This morning I went to a doctor’s appointment (actually two appointments back to back in the same office). It was a bit overwhelming trying to digest everything the doctor and nurse threw at me. At one point near the end of the appointment, the doctor said “You aren’t using the computer (referring to the computer in a medical device I use daily) and you really just have a $ 5,000 syringe.” Hmmm.
He left me thinking that I probably think I am smarter than I really am. Instead of using the device in question to make decisions, I’ve been relying on what I think, what I know, to make decisions. While the computer in question is doubtless not as smart as I am, it also is designed to do things I am not using it to do.
I wonder if many of us aren’t in the boat in which I find myself traveling. We think we know more than we do. We are sure we are more “right” than we are. We are certain at least that we know more than the other person, the institution. We can choose best even when tradition or the evidence or wiser heads tell us differently.
It’s a very human thing, In Genesis we hear the serpent tell Eve ““You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 CEB). The woman is promised she will know more than God, or as much at least. And she goes for it.
Today I am thinking I need to think less of my own ability and intelligence and experience and lean more on that which surrounds me — the knowledge of people who know more than I, the wisdom of the centuries that captures depths I can only barely plumb, the wisdom and love of God which may not always make sense to me but does always exceed my own.