Holding a live fish is a very slippery affair – there aren’t any hand holds and this small, shining, silvery grey creature is alive and moving. Just like faith. Faith is hard to put into words. If we are prepared to let our faith grow and mature then we find out that our ideas of what faith is somehow slip and slide away from our grasp. Now we understand it, now we don’t.
We find ourselves confusing faith with religion. Faith requires care, honest reflection and courage. Our culture identifies faith with wishful thinking, naivety, a perceived lack of courage to face what is generally believed to be truth, piety that verges on superstition, immaturity, narrowness and fundamentalism.
Maybe that is our fault. We get used to seeing expressions of faith spread out like a range of supermarket products– a mix and match of stories, words, customs and rituals that have been integrated into the way we perceive and practice our religion.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that faith is deeply personal, dynamic and living and changing, while religion is the way faith may be expressed.
An axiom that has been around a long time says that faith is caught, not taught. Being born into a Catholic family, educated in a Catholic school can give us a relationship to a religion, a faith community. But this is not the same thing as a faith in God. It’s easier to believe in Gospel values, go to Mass every Sunday, live a life that is ecologically just, than it is to have a personal and real relationship with God.
Faith is rarely expressed where our head is at, and even less likely to be where our heart is. It’s wrapped up in our commitments. It’s that something that holds us in a marriage after the romance has been tangled up and mislaid in a welter of laundry, meals and children’s needs. It’s going to Mass even when the adult children have given up and drifted away from Catholic practices.
In Church language we are called ‘the faithful’. As we grow older, world events, climate change, family break-downs and differences in how morality is perceived can test our faith. It can become more difficult to live a faith-full life, placing our trust in God when it would seem more comfortable to retreat to a simpler time.
Adult faith requires an inner journey to that part of my soul where I must face my sinfulness, my fear that I am unlovable, that I will one day die, that I have insecurities that I don’t even want to name. Faith means I am able to name these deep, deep concerns and fears, admit them to God in the kind of prayer that stumbles over words.
We try to tell ourselves that this kind of faith doesn’t make sense, especially when we no longer feel enthusiasm for faith practices that once nurtured us. But if we are honest and courageous we will recognise that something deep is happening to us, beyond that which we can explain or feel.
This is what faith means. This is where faith lives. This is where God is.