What is Faith? – Raised Catholic episode 29

The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Today is episode 29: What is Faith?

Well, hello friends. We have some new listeners lately, so let me just first say welcome, and also, thank you to those who are sharing the podcast with your friends, and who are rating, reviewing, and subscribing. That is all so helpful, so thanks again!  In today’s podcast we are turning a little toward the philosophical with the question of what faith really is.

If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you might already have heard the story of a pretty deep dive I did with discerning what I really believed about my faith around the time my first child was small. And that was well over twenty years ago now, but I still remember the big epiphany I gained from one particularly strenuous time of prayer and spiritual direction and it was this: If my life was a house, then I had relegated faith to one room of that house and the rest of the rooms, like: family, marriage, job, friends, hobbies, etc., well, they were similarly compartmentalized. I realized that I had entered that ‘faith’ room pretty much once a week at church or when we said grace at meals and that was kind of it. But after this intense time of getting to know God in a real way, I realized with a bit of shock: If Jesus is who He says He is, then faith can’t just be a room in the house of our lives. Rather, in an integrated faith life, it is the window through which we see everything else.

Well, everything was different after that for me, and I’ve continued to learn and grow in my faith over time.  You could say that now, faith is more like my house, with rooms to explore and visit and rest in, rooms that reflect the many facets of what I believe and how I walk it out every day.  There have been many seasons of construction, renovation, and repair – it is kind of ongoing, truthfully, but over time it’s become a more peaceful, solid place to be.  I find there’s more light and I really like the colors now and there is so much more seating for other people than there once was. As I have gotten older, it’s increasingly true: faith is where I live.

But before we get too deeply into what faith is, let’s talk briefly about what faith is not. If you were born and raised Catholic, you may have been taught that faith is a list of checkboxes:  things for you to do in a timely manner and schedule, and things really not to do, ever, but faith is not a task list and the sooner we can get away from that idea the better.

Faith is also not something that ever makes you better than anyone else, though if you were born and raised Catholic, I would not be the least bit surprised if you received that problematic message while you were growing up. ‘Good’ Catholics who go to mass and who donate to the parish and volunteer, and especially the priests – oh my goodness – somehow we believed that they were all ‘better’ than the rest and we may have received, consciously or unconsciously, a hierarchical list of people who were better and worse than each other based on our vocations, our outward dedication to the kinds of faith practices that everyone else could readily see and notice but – and this can take some time to unwind – but friend, this is just not so. Don’t believe me?  Ask the widow from the Book of Mark whose generous gift was noticed and known ONLY by Jesus, or the Pharisee from the Book of Luke who prayed loudly about his spiritual accomplishments and about how grateful he was that he was not like the many kinds of sinners that he listed in detail. Oh, can you imagine? I actually know people like this though, and I bet you do, too. Proudly listing their spiritual accomplishments, oh my goodness. But in case you don’t remember, Jesus was thoroughly unimpressed with that man, saying instead that the tax collector who humbled himself and simply asked for mercy – well, he’d be the one who went home justified before God. And, oof, that’s a word isn’t it? Jesus also said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” And how does that connect with your experience of faith in church these days? For me, the people I see living their faith lives most authentically tend to be the ones who have humbly realized just how far it is that we need to go and oh, I love those people.

Okay so what else is faith not? Faith is also not a system or a building, though we can find very helpful elements of faith in both systems and buildings, and gosh I know I have. I love the flow of the liturgy and the words of so many of the prayers.  I love the ways that faith inspires people to walk out the doors and serve our sisters and brothers in truly inspired charitable systems, like my favorite charity, My Brother’s Keeper does, and I’ll link to them in today’s show notes for you. I have found holy ground in many buildings including chapels, prayer rooms, cemeteries (yes – I know that sounds a bit dark but ‘memento mori’, friends). Anyway, my faith has been influenced by the beauty, art, and music in so many buildings and I’ve connected with God in more holy places that I can probably count. I found a faithful community when I was in college in a little chapel building that changed the trajectory of my life for the better, and this was a lifegiving place for me and my family for a long, long while.

But buildings are not faith. And unfortunately, just because a building advertises itself as a house of God doesn’t make it so.  So, if faith is not a room and if faith is not a system or a building, and if a series of tasks are not faith, and if faith doesn’t have a pecking order so you can know how you measure up, what is faith exactly?

Well, for me faith is an anchor. As it says in the Book of Hebrews:

“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.” 

I count on the anchor of my faith especially when life is chaotic, when it feels like I’m being tossed back and forth in churning seas.  And I could tell you too many stories about how this anchor has held me even when I thought that was impossible, but it held, thanks be to God.

But if faith is an anchor, it is also a sail. I love the account from the Book of John about Jesus walking on the water. The story has them rowing out about three or four miles, which is a long way, and then Jesus is walking toward them (by the way, He does this for us – He walks toward us and it’s totally awesome). Anyway, He tells them not to be afraid (He says this to me a lot too and I always appreciate it). Okay, I’m getting off-track. Anyway, the account says that they were willing to take Him into the boat. And this matters, by the way.  When it comes to faith, we have a choice, and God will always respect it. We can invite Him into our boat or not, completely up to us, but when the disciples let Him in to the boat, the Scripture says that IMMEDIATELY the boat reached the shore where they were heading.  Sudden movement, instant arrival, and you gotta love that.  My faith moves me, usually not so quickly as that, and mostly I can’t see it at the time, but our faith is like a sail.  When we open to the movement of God, the Holy Spirit blows where it will, and He gets us where we need to be, supernaturally.  And friend, I really believe that.

But if faith is an anchor and faith is a sail and faith is where we live, it is also very much a road. I’m never quite sure where my faith is going to lead me next, and the older I get the more I see it as a journey that God has planned for me.  He walks with me and a little ahead, thankfully, but my faith has taken me some places that I would not have chosen, and also has given me experiences of real awe and beauty that I could never have planned.

Okay, so faith is an anchor and it’s a sail and it’s where we live and it’s also the road and it is the lens through which I see everything else.  That’s all true. And the only way that that can all be true all at once is the clarifying truth of what faith really is, and maybe you’ve already guessed what that is by now.

Faith is a relationship.

Faith is a relationship with a real God who really loves us. He planned us, made us, knows us, and walks with us.  And as I get to know Him more, I’m astounded at how personal He is, how much in the details He is, how much He wants to be known by me.  I learn about His humility in the person of Jesus who came to live with and teach us, to die for us, to accompany each of us on our roads, and who is preparing a place for us to live with Him one day. 

I question Him sometimes, yes, and I yell at Him sometimes too, but you know what? I’ve learned that He can take it and I trust Him more now than I ever have – not because everything is perfect – friend, it really is not, but because I have seen Him show up. I’ve felt His presence and I know He listens, and I have seen Him help, sometimes in ways that I did not ask for and did not expect, but which were better, maybe, than my ways. Hmm, I have to admit that. I have gotten to know His faithfulness and it makes me want to know Him even more. At the end of the day, faith is a relationship, and it is also a choice, day-by-day. And it’s so good to know that in that choice, we are never, ever alone.

Well, thanks so much for listening today.  If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. As usual, I have lots of resources for you in today’s show notes – music, things to read, ways to pray – so this might help you explore the topic more deeply for yourself, and I hope you’ll check those out, but for now, let us pray.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Oh God, we thank you for the gift of faith, whether we see it as a road or a house or an anchor or a sail. As we build or grow or walk or rest in our faith today, please reveal yourself to us as a friend. And please bless us and our dear ones too on their roads and we pray all of this in the name of Jesus, amen.

Okay friends, thanks again for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

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