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Thought for the 18th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 22): Faith

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 2:1

Paul the apostle famously found his faith in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, but most of us cannot claim anything so dramatic. Some days, the most any of us can manage is Lord I believe; help thou mine unbeliefMark 9:24

Matthew Arnold expressed his despair in ‘Dover Beach‘:

The Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full and round earth’s shore, lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, retreating, to the breath of the night wind down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world.
Noel Coward said Life without Faith is an arid business 
But Faith, an unswerving unshakeable faith, is sometimes difficult to find:
Our technological civilization has cushioned life on all sides, yet more than ever before, people helplessly succumb to the blows of life. This is very simply because a merely technological culture cannot give any help in the face of life’s eternal tragedy; here only an inward foundation can help. Externalized as they are, too many people today have no ideas, no strength, nothing that might enable them to master their restlessness and dividedness. They do not know what to make of trials, obstacles, or suffering—how to make something constructive of them—and perceive them only as things that oppress and irritate them and interfere with lifeF W Foerster, ‘The Cushioned Life’
But here the French come to the rescue, in the shape of Blaise Pascal.
You have to bet. It is not voluntary- you are already embarked [on life’s voyage].
And not to bet that God exists is to bet that he does not exist. Which side will you choose? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in opting for the side that God exists. If you win, you win everything. If you lose, you lose nothing. So you should wager without hesitation that he exists. I tell you that you will also win in this life; and that at every step you take along the way you will see so much certitude of winning, and so much and so much nothingness in what you are hazarding that you will know in the end that you have bet in favour of something certain and infinite. ‘Pensées’ #54
I told a Turkish friend about Pascal once, and she was deeply shocked at what she regarded as such a cynical reason for having faith in God. But Christianity allows us to use our reason as well as our emotion, and I think Pascal, whose faith was deep and genuine and who also said:
Be comforted. You would not be seeking God if you had not already found Him, was just trying to talk to the most logical people on earth in a language they could understand.
Tolstoy said:
We have one infallible guide, and only one: the Universal Spirit which inspires each and all of us, implanting in every individual a yearning for what ought to be – the same spirit which causes the tree to aspire towards the sun, which causes the flower to shed its seeds in autumn and which impels us instinctively to draw closer together.
Lucerne, 1857
Wordsworth speaks of:
one in whom persuasion and belief had ripened into faith, and faith become a passionate intuition‘The Excursion’ Book IV, line 1293
In the end, we have to be prepared to make a leap of faith.

Did Jesus live? And did he really say
The burning words that banish mortal fear?…
Between the probable and the proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the word
That opens up the shattered universe.

Sheldon Vanauken‘A Severe Mercy’1
Professor Vanauken was a friend of C S Lewis, who describes how he finally took this leap:
You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed …I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought or great emotion. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake. ‘Surprised by Joy’
We started this thought with our bad days, when our faith wobbles. But let us not forget our good days, when we can echo with feeling the words of Job,9:25 set so marvellously to music in Handel’s Messiah that I challenge you to say them without your spine tingling:
‘I Know that My Redeemer Liveth!’

Finally, I end with the same thought as the passage from Hebrews with which this post began, the strapline from June Butler’s blog:

Faith is not certainty so much as it is acting-as-if in great hope.



If my selection of singer for ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ is not classical enough for you, I suggest you follow the hyperlink instead, which leads you to a rendition  by Isobel Baillie. The reason I chose this one is that I was left in no doubt whatsoever that the singer does indeed have faith.

1 I am unfortunately unable to quote the poem in full for reasons of copyright but you can read it if you follow the hyperlink.

The illustration is by Tim Pillinger – view my workCeltic Cross Abstract Acrylic in Red Gold Black & Blue. A canvas showing a cross. On the cross is a knot pattern based upon a three point grid. Each has a different function, but without all three it would not work. Sound like anything?


2 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

I think that while faith may be inherent in those who are born into a loving Christian family, in others like myself, you come to it through the processes and journey of life. I had a Damascus road moment, which convinced me that Jesus Christ lives. But did it instil faith into my life?

I think that the knowledge and certainty of Jesus’ life and growing to know him in that personal spiritual life you have with him, gradually plants ‘faith’ inside us as a foundational part of our whole being.

Knowing and believing can be two quite different things – for instance I know that If I jump out of an plane with a parachute, I WILL come down. But believing that it’s a safe thing to do, is quite something else.

But once I had received the gift of knowledge and certainty in Jesus, that journey of faith, hope and trust began. I didn’t really think about it that much, but one day it became a solid certainty. I can actually point to a particular date which was in 2011, during a meeting with an assistant DDO, he challenged me to give him a ‘statement of my faith’?

I was non-plussed! I had taken it for granted that this was obvious by all of the process that I had gone through to get to meet him – what was blindingly obvious to me, although not articulated, should have been the same for him!!!

But, after some more digging I realised that he was seeking what lay beneath the surface. He was asking me to dig to the depths and to articulate the thing that gave me that certainty and belief in Jesus that made me a disciple and someone who should be ordained, rather than wasting his and my time.

It came to me that I had grown so much as a Christian, spiritually, mentally, inwardly and outwardly that the growth had brought me to a place where I found deep joy and love at my core for Jesus, and was certain that it was reciprocated. This was the thing that gave me faith – the sure and certain knowledge (as it says in the BCP)that I was on the right path, in the right place at the right time.

While that particular journey ended somewhat differently than I hoped, it didn’t dent that faith, love and trust in anyway. I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t been able to succeed in the process, but knew that perhaps I was on the wrong journey to that particular destination.

Today we celebrated harvest in our parish church. As we sang the words of “We Plough the Fields and Scatter” the words of the chorus just seemed to ring aloud in my head:

“All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
For all his love”.

They in some way were echoing my own thoughts and feelings and thanksgiving for that gift of faith which had grown and strengthened in the journey so far. Thanks be to God.

Joyce Hackney said...

Thank you for both versions of I Know That My Redeemer Liveth,Laura. Isobel Baillie once said that before singing it she used to imagine herself standing beside the grave of a loved one.
It’s a piece that has many meanings for me.One is the memory of following my grandma’s coffin into church to it. She knew her redeemer lived. We all did and still do. Ernie,yes it is a blessing to grow up with faith. I can hardly bear to imagine it otherwise. We still need our own Road to Damascus experience,however,as we were discussing with a cousin at another funeral. Upbringing does help but nobody else can do our believing for us.Having supportive family behind us when the time comes is a wonderful thing.Perhaps some of us should appreciate it more.Thank you for drawing attention to it.

07 October 2012 23:45
07 October 2012 18:21

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