Spiritual Focus: Faith

Posted on Sep 9, 2015 in Feature Stories, From Rev. Dave

Concrete PansyEach month, Allegheny and First Unitarian share a spiritual focus for worship and other programs. The spiritual focus for September is “Faith.”

Ours is a simple faith.

Life is a short embrace.

Heaven is in this place every day.

– from “Ours is a Simple Faith” by David Tamulevich/Mustard’s Retreat

This song we often sing at Sunday morning worship assumes Faith is a set of beliefs. But as with most things of deep importance, Faith is more complicated. When Khalil Gibran (author of “The Prophet”) suggests,

Faith is an oasis in the heart

that will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.

he’s offering tough stuff for a worldview that privileges thinking over all other sources of knowing. It may well be that Faith is to the heart what belief is to the head. I’m familiar with that process. I used to believe that all people have at least a little good, something redeemable within them. Now, after encounters over so many years with so many different people, young and old, rich and poor; what started as a theoretical matter of the head has become an article of Faith, a way I approach my understanding of not only humanity but of individual human beings I meet and interact with; it’s become a matter of the heart.

What may be the most fruitful approach to Faith, especially for a church like ours that isn’t afraid of the truth that our spirits can be nourished (or diminished) by aspects of all religious faiths, is: Faith is an attitude toward life that makes us more loving, more hopeful, and feeling more like children of God and at home in the universe. As British philosopher Alan Watts has put it:

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax and float.”

Yet as compelling and encouraging this description may be, sometimes my inner Puritan wants to force more often than float or flow. Especially when things aren’t right. The Buddhists offer a corrective to my over-zealous Puritan: If my “Faith” results in the dour self-righteousness that earnest “Social Justice Warriors” are (in)famous for, it’s something other than Faith. In a simplified version of the Saddhra Suttra, Faith has three attributes: 1) a conviction that something is, 2) determination to reach one’s goals, and 3) joy in the awareness of the preceding two attributes. If there’s no joy in it, then it’s something other than Faith, but maybe political correctness or hubris or an unbalanced ego or my mistakenly equating unhappiness with sincerity.

Though at least since Emperor Constantine, religious faiths of the hierarchical variety have been recognized as effective means of social control; the world’s great social movements have been those that have Faith. At the very least, Faith in their efforts. Faith that their bending the moral arc of the universe would bring the future to better places not yet seen. Faith in lighting just one more candle. Faith in advancing one movement, one lifetime, one generation closer to a society of more peace and justice, a more perfect union. One step closer to the mountain top.

Reworked for the Pragmatic Socially Conscious, the petitionary prayer of this understanding of Faith might be, “God, grant me strength; or if not, grant me Faith.”

How have you defined Faith? Does that definition serve you best? Is it closer to Gibran or Watts or Buddhism or Christianity? What are your experiences of Faith?

Explore and share throughout this month and especially at our mid-month, Wednesday night group on the month’s spiritual focus. Every second Wednesday night of the month, we gather in the UHouse (1110 Resaca) from 6:00-7:00PM to explore the spiritual focus together. Of course you can show up any second Wednesday evening, but if you’d like the preparation and follow-up materials, please register your interest with me through my church e-address:  minister @ alleghenyuu.org.

See you in church. Always love to all, Rev Dave