Thursday, 29 November 2007

A question of faith...

from the Bishop of Oxford's sermon this morning during chapel at work (they're evangelicals, remember?):

"For me, the mark of an authentic faith is that the person isn't about whether they're really religious or not, it's whether
or not they are fully alive ."


He continues:

"I've known people whose faith has diminished them, made them smaller. It has prevented them from fully engaging in life."

He has articulated one of my most deeply held beliefs. As a Catholic in my church, my faith is measured by whether I receive communion on the tongue or on the hand; whether I go to a mass where the priest's back is to me; how well I can worship at a priest's feet; how precisely I follow the rules.

But looking around me, all I see is death. People dead to the world, to joy, to God.

As per a favourite poet:

"And an old priest said, "Speak to us of Religion."

And he said:

Have I spoken this day of aught else?

Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,

And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?

Who can spread his hours before him, saying, "This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?"

All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.

He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.

The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.

And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.

The freest song comes not through bars and wires.

And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.

Your daily life is your temple and your religion.

Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.

Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,

The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.

For in reverie you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures.

And take with you all men:

For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair.

And if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles.

Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.

And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.

You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees."

--"On religion", The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

So you'll pardon me if I judge your faith not by your ability to parrot or follow the rules, but by how you live your life: how you treat others; whether you will risk fully engaging in a mortal life that brings love and pain, happiness and sorrow in equal measure; whether you will risk everything for love, mortal or divine; whether your faith opens you up to others or makes you shut them out, creating a world of 'us' and 'them'.

I have seen 'faith' diminish too many people - they have become small-minded, narrow; desperate for the approval of their superiors; joined the 'more perfect' religious life to run away from their issues and to lead an easy (read: avoiding responsibility) life; they amputate parts of their personality until they fit a soulless mould and there's nothing left of the person God created.

Shortly after that, Bishop John made a point that wasn't explicitly related, but I think ties in beautifully to his comments above.

"When I'm afraid, I lock the door. But when I lock myself in, am I locking Christ out?"

That's the real question, isn't it? "Perfect love drives out fear" - and makes you unlock that door - and yourself.

The truth shall set you free.


Anonymous said...

Part of the trouble with faith making you worse is the wording of the phrase. If we understand faith as a gift from God, then it is not so much the faith that makes us awful - it is our interpretation and understanding of what faith asks or implies.
Heaven alone knows how many people are doing just that - ie misinterpreting or misusing faith and what it stands for...rather too many, I fear...
And I too have seen people with supposed faith in God or institutionalised religion grow into what I'm sure God never intended. If that makes sense...

Thanks for making me think!

Christine said...

Great blog Irim. Keep it going!