NOTE: Recently, a congregant asked me, “You always sign your emails, ‘In faith…’ What does that mean?”
This post is inspired by that question…
Do you consider yourself a person of “faith?” What do you have faith in? Yourself, science, nothing, something larger than you?
Or do you equate “faith” with belief in a deity? Faith as something rigid and dogmatic? Maybe, like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, you would say faith, belief, and religion are a plague upon humanity.
Or maybe you consider yourself a person of faith, but aren’t sure exactly how to articulate that.
In Pali, the language of much of the ancient Buddhist teachings, faith is a verb, an action, as it is also in Latin and Hebrew. In this context, faith means to trust, to confide in, to rely on.
|You can learn more about Salzberg's book here.|
As Buddhist author Sharon Salzberg says, “Faith is not a singular state that we either have or don’t have, but is something we do…Whether connected to a deity or not, part of faith’s essence lies in trusting ourselves to discover the deepest truths on which we can rely.”
So this means that over time, in conversation with sacred texts and others, we might learn to trust in the power of love, or the presence of the Holy; we might trust that with deep awareness and a practice of loving kindness, we can know peace and help relieve suffering in the world.
With “faith” as a verb, an action, it means faith is not something we either have or don’t. Instead, it is a step, a leap we take over and over again, a trust and loyalty that grows over time.
As Salzberg says, “Faith is what gets us out of bed, it’s what gets us on an airplane to an unknown land...it is saying, ‘I align myself with the potential inherent in life, I give myself (my heart) to that potential.’ …Faith is the willingness to take the next step, to begin a journey to an unknown destination.”
Think of marriage, or a committed partnership, or having children, or sitting at the bedside of dying loved one. Faith takes us to the threshold of what we know. And then it calls us across. Faith invites us to give our hearts to a relationship, a friend, a cause, to God - even if we don't know how it’s all going to play out.
There’s a story by the Buddha that explains this kind of faith:
A herd of cows arrives at the bank of a wide stream. The mature ones see the stream and simply wade across it. They are like fully enlightened beings who have crossed the stream of ignorance and suffering.
The younger cows, less mature in their wisdom, stumble apprehensively on the shore, but eventually they go forward and cross the stream.
Last come the calves, trembling with fear, some just learning how to stand.
But these vulnerable, tender calves also get to the other side, the Buddha says.
They cross the stream just by following the mooing of their mothers.
The calves trust their mothers and, anticipating the safety of reunion, follow their voices and cross the stream. That, the Buddha says, is the power of faith to call us forward.
For me, "In faith" is not a statement of belief as much as a statement of practice. It is "in faith," that I practice trusting my own deepest experiences - continuing to lean into love and life, continuing to awaken and respond to the presence of the "Holy." It is "in faith," that I practice leaning into community, vulnerability, and greater authenticity...step by step, in faith, I learn to lean into and trust these things...and invite others to lean with me.