This book sets out in a simple but profound way what faith is in our contemporary world. It sees it as a journey of trust. The reader finds themselves invited to think about their own responses as the author explores what people mean when they speak about ‘faith’.
Margaret Silf is one of England’s best-loved spiritual writers and a retreat leader. She is the author of Landmarks, Taste and See, Daysprings, and Sacred Spaces.
64 pp. Darton Longman & Todd Ltd. to purchase book online, go to www.dltbooks.com
My baby granddaughter has more faith than I do.
She believes that when I am holding her I won’t drop her.
She believes that when she is hungry someone will feed her.
She believes that life and the world mean well with her.
She believes – indeed I hope she knows – that we love her.
She doesn’t think about ‘faith’. She just lives it.
As she grows older her faith will get more complicated.
She will learn that sometimes life will let her down and she will get hurt.
She will discover that not every need is going to be met, just because she shouts loudly enough.
She will learn to distinguish between those things in life – like kindness, compassion, justice and truth – that are making her, and all of us, more fully alive, and those things – like war and greed and selfishness – that are working against that fullness of life.
She will come to understand that faith is a cooperative venture, and that her own actions and choices will have reactions and results.
She will try to work things out, try to pin things down and get a grasp on her life’s meaning.
She will hear many conflicting voices and may come to think that ‘faith’ is hard work, an intellectual marathon, a puzzle to he gnawed at until a solution emerges.
Then one day, please God, she will become older and wiser. By then she will have learned that the hurts along the way will have made her stronger, clarified her inner truth, revealed her own limitations.
She will concede that sometimes, after all, God knew best, and that good things grow from seeds that have been broken open by the weather and lain hidden in the dark earth. She will look back over the kaleidoscope of her life and notice how the fragments of experience that made no sense at the time are shaping a rather beautiful pattern.
What faith she has then will be simple again. But it will have the simplicity born of experience and reflection — a simplicity that looks back with gratitude on all she has seen and done and lived, and is confident in trusting God for all that remains unseen, undone, unlived. It will be the kind of faith that knows that God is more likely to ask her, at the end of her journey, ‘How well did you love?’ than ‘How much did you understand’?’ And her answer might be:
Someone trusted me and I didn’t let them down.
Someone was hungry and I fed them.
Someone was hopeless and I gave them a reason to trust that at least one person meant well with them.
Someone had no one, and I loved them.
It sounds simple.
But it takes a lifetime to reach that simplicity, and to come full circle, from infant faith to mature faith, from the source of our being to its destiny.
Simple faith is simply to journey in trust, like a baby, but with the wounds and scars of an adult, like a man who died on a cross, and invites us to ‘become like little children’, and when we follow him we discover that his footsteps lead right back, full circle, to a whole new beginning.
WHO IS GOD FOR ME?
A little girl in kindergarten was painting a picture. Her teacher asked her: ‘What are you painting?’ The child replied: ‘It’s a picture of God.’ Very interested to see what the result would be, the teacher commented: But nobody knows what God looks like.’ ‘They will when I have finished my picture,’ replied the child confidently.
We all have our ‘pictures of God’, and most of them started to form in early childhood. Of course no one has seen God. So it follows that any picture, or image, of God that we may form is going to be completely inadequate, and may even be seriously harmful.
Some of the unhelpful images we commonly have of God include:
All these have one thing in common: they image God as a person, like us, only bigger and more powerful. Because we are human, it’s inevitable that, like the little girl, we will make pictures of God that look like ourselves, since this is all we know. But could we do better than this? Can our image of God grow up a bit, now we are groan up ourselves?
Some alternative images …
Mystics through the ages have struggled to express their sense of God in more abstract ways, for example:
Quakers speak of ‘that which is of God within all beings’.
Anthony de Mello tells the story of the fish that was searching for the mystery he called Ocean,. `Where is Ocean?’ he asked every other fish he met. Nobody could tell him. ‘What does Ocean look like?’ Nobody could say; nobody had ever seen it.
Perhaps the fish went on his way, dismissing the idea of ‘Ocean’ as a figment of the collective imagination.
Or perhaps lie realised that ‘Ocean’ was the fullness of the mystery in which he and all the creatures of the deep live and move and have their being.
Many people would dismiss the idea of ‘God’ as a fiction.
Others intuit that God is the mystery in which We all live and move and have our being.
Do I believe …?
To be a person of faith is to believe that there is a power greater than ourselves, an all-powerful mystery in whom we live and move and have our being.
For the fish, the ocean is the medium that holds it afloat, that nourishes it and, by means of subtle movements and currents, guides its path. If the fish could leap out of the ocean it would die. It isn’t actually possible to leap out of the medium in which we have our being.
Nor is it possible to reject the reality of the mystery we call ‘God’. But it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to reject our own flawed and damaging images of God.
Try taking stock of some of Your own images of God.
Are there any you feel you need to let go of?
Is there any image that really works for you?
Images can be helpful, but they are only images, only a human attempt to describe what cannot be described. Let them help you in your faith journey, but don’t let them imprison you.
A person of faith is someone who knows that he or she is not the centre of the universe, but acknowledges that this centre of gravity lies in a mystery much deeper than human hearts can fathom – a mystery we call ‘God’.
What do you think?
When you say: ‘I believe in God’, what do you mean’?
God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (EXODUS 3:13)
RELATING TO GOD
Human beings, like all mammals, are conceived, born and live their lives in relationship. We are each a part of a vast and inter-dependent web of life, in which every individual finds his or her meaning in the context of the whole.
We all know how challenging it can be to live in healthy and loving relationships with each other. Relating to each other is the most demanding aspect of what it means to be human, but it is at the very heart of what makes us human.
If God is the mystery in whom this web of life has its being, then God is surely also longing to be in relationship with each of us, and with all of us. How might this work?
Relationship is a two-way street.
God wants to reveal Godself to us.
We want to find a meaningful relationship with God.
Such a two-way relationship, like any human relationship, will involve some self-disclosure.
God will reveal something of God’s nature to us. We are invited to share ourselves and our concerns with God.
A person of faith is one who tries to read the meanings of God in our world, and desires to respond to these meanings in a way that best expresses his or her own personality.
How could this work?
For as long as human beings have been around on this planet, they have tried to find ways of being in relationship with God. They have discovered, for example, that something of the nature of God is revealed through:
Creation itself is covered with the footprints of the creator.
It shows us the delicate dance between light and darkness, action and rest, life and death. It tells us the story of how our universe began and how it is sustained in being, in spite of our own thoughtless lifestyles.
Sacred scripture tells another story – of how we have tried to listen to God’s voice through our human history. It invites us to hear God’s meanings through historical accounts, through parable, through story and in words of wisdom.
Other people show us how they have learned to relate to God and follow where God leads, and their stories invite us to learn from them and follow the ways of truth and love along with them.
And God is right there in our ordinary days and and interactions, our sorrows weeks, out conversations and our joys, waiting to be recognised.
And our response?
We can begin to cultivate a relationship with God in much the same way we would with another human being.
We can share our thoughts, our fears, our joys and our sorrows, our hopes and our dreams, in the dialogue we call ‘prayer’.
It isn’t so hard.
When we express the things we feel most deeply, in the quiet of prayer, we are not really ‘telling God’ our concerns, but bringing them to mind ourselves, in the conscious presence of God.
You could say that we are bringing them into a sharper focus, in the light of God’s love, exposing them to the beam of that love, whether we are praying for ourselves or for someone else.
We can develop this relationship by living in daily awareness of what is actually going on in our lives, and learning to notice those moments when we feel God is close, perhaps suggesting new directions or calming long-standing fears, or opening our hearts to moments of joy in the presence of great beauty or incidents that move us deeply.
Every movement in our hearts is an invitation to respond to God’s action in our lives. Every day we live has the potential to take us a little bit further in our desire to relate to the mystery of God.
What do you think?
Genuine relationship, whether with each other or with God, depends on whether we want to be in relationship.
If the desire is there, the rest will follow.
What is your desire?
In what special ways do you feel God expresses Godself to you?
How do you respond?
Every happening, great and small, is a
parable whereby God speaks to us, and the
art of life is to get the message.’