Tumbling in the Sand
The confirmation project for our last year confirmation student(s) is to work with a mentor to answer and present their own personal answer to one of several proposed questions as they and the mentor talk about life and faith and being church together. In a series of newsletter articles, I’m inviting the congregation to also consider the questions posed to our confirmands and I am “answering” the questions one at a time in an attempt to invite further conversation. The questions are as follows:
What does it mean to you to be a person of faith?
Why Christianity? And why Lutheran, particularly?
Where do you see God in your every day life?
What difference do the stories in the Bible make in your life?
Why does it matter to you that you’ve been baptized?
How do you keep the promises that you made when you were confirmed (which your parents had made for you when you were baptized)?
Talk about these terms and what they mean to you: grace; Church; mission; salvation
What difference does the cross make to you? What difference does Jesus’ teaching make to you?
What do you do with doubt? How about disbelief?
What do you think your vocation is? How do you live your vocation?
How do you figure out what your vocation is? (vocation = calling, what God calls you to do with your life)
This month, I explored the first question, answering it for myself … at least a little (by the way, I don’t expect that my answer will be the same as anyone else’s). Below are my thoughts.
There are so many things that being a person of faith means for my life and I could probably go on for pages (and Tammee told me I couldn’t use the whole newsletter). Besides that, what it means to me to be a person of faith is an ever-changing and growing thing, because I am ever-changing and growing (I hope). My faith is a living, breathing thing that ebbs and flows; and, as I and things around me change, my faith and how it impacts my daily life changes as well. But, there are five things that come to mind for me almost immediately (at least today) as I think about what it means to me to be a person of faith.
First of all, being a person of faith reminds me of the mysterious holiness of the creation. By that, I mean it inspires wonder at the vastness of it all, the miracle that everything is. Now, I know that I experience a similar awe in scientific curiosity and exploration, but the awe and wonder of faith has a different quality to me: it allows me to bathe in mystery. Not that it stops me from exploring or wondering or learning, but faith gives me a freedom to be lost in mystery that I have not generally experienced in scientific exploration—and that is deeply enriching to my life. First of all, because there is great value, beauty, and power in mystery; but also because being lost in mystery allows me the freedom to not always have to understand “why?” and be comfortable in the not knowing.
I think related to this, actually, is the next thing that I find being a person of faith means to me. Faith stops me from valuing things only from an instrumental perspective rather than understanding an innate or intrinsic value. So much of our world, economy, politics, society, you name it, chooses to value things based on what they can do, how useful they are or maybe how beautiful or esthetically pleasing they are. Faith challenges that for me because I am reminded that all things are contained in that mysterious holiness of God. Because all things belong to God, they are inherently valuable. They are valuable simply because they are. They are worthy of awe not because they are beautiful or complicated or useful, but simply because they exist.
Thirdly, I think that faith grounds me in an infinite love and holiness beyond my limited comprehension to understand or explain. It is a pretty easy thing to recognize how small human beings are. All you have to do is go out on a clear night someplace without so much light pollution and the stars humble you. Faith lets me look into that vastness and not be lost in it—in the sense of being lost in a nihilistic sort of way. Instead, faith helps me to understand that the vastness that stretches before me isn’t the end of me and the beginning of nothing but rather something that I belong to and that it belongs to me. And faith also helps me to trust and believe that the vastness of the universe (and beyond to infinity) isn’t apathetic but part of an energy and movement of love toward creation and life and wonder.
Because of that, being a person of faith helps me to embrace my limits and doubts. Because I know that I don’t have to be big or all knowing or perfect because there is an infinite love that already is. I can have limits and doubts because I am not God and not infinite and not completely in control. And faith allows me to stop attempting to grasp at it (to stop, to use the words of a Meister Eckhart, trying to put the ocean into a thimble) and believe that that’s fine because that which is infinite and beyond limit, that which is mystery, moves toward good.
This leads me to the last thing that being a person of faith means for me. Faith teaches me trust in a purpose. Now, I am not one who generally thinks of God as someone who has every detail of my life and every other life worked out in advance. That’s too mechanistic for me. Instead, I believe that God’s Word, from beginning and evermore is working creation, goodness, beauty, wonder, value, life, justice, love, community, and creativity (yes, I kind of used that word twice). I think that God has purpose and direction for all creation and that through creation and re-creation we are moving toward that purpose. My life, therefore, belongs to that purpose and I am free to participate in that purpose, though I have little doubt that I often participate in chaos that works against it. Ultimately, however, because of the infinite goodness of God, I have faith that God’s purpose for creation will be born in us, even though that means a good deal of death and resurrection along the way. And all of this means that even though I am but a small thimble in the vastness of the ocean, there is meaning and value to my life as it contributes the beautiful purpose of the mystery of God.