By Rick Berube
CSS Associate Chaplain
A friend prompted me into this reflection when he recently asked me “What is your Faith to you?”
Striving to remain faithful to the essentials of the religious traditions and spiritual culture I grew up with has sometimes made me feel like an alien among my peers -- and even more so among younger generations. Perhaps some aspects of this “alien” phenomenon are more common than I think, and at least some readers might relate to it.
Family relationships within my home -- and the entire social matrix of connections in the village community where I was raised -- brought me a lot of joy, much satisfaction, and a good sense of wellbeing. The Church was a central medium in tying together that community, animating its relationships and every aspect of its social character.
To our young minds, however, the religious knowledge and observances imparted at times took on a flavour more imposed than inviting. Religious teachings were not open to scrutiny or question, and felt constraining in nature; we might become stuck in the austerity of the storylines, and left alone with our doubts, fears and uncertainties. Some of us were left with the undeveloped impression of God as a distant Being, detached from the material world.
He was the Creator and Rule Setter, the Judge, the Sustainer of life and the Terminator of it all… His active presence in our human experience not emphasized outside the Son’s visit in history. Our God of active presence, the Verb, remained concealed behind the image of an all-powerful but distant force, the Subject.
Of course, Jesus was a central figure in these teachings. His presence and relevance in our lives, however, was something to be negotiated, under our own initiatives; a relationship with Christ had to be merited by meeting difficult conditions.
I always knew instinctively that this gift of Faith and my initial training into it was a great treasure, yet the way to integrate it into my life was not obvious; ways of infusing the divine into the human eluded me. Assigning the divine to another dimension in this way may have led to the difficulty many in my generation had with practicing their religion, and to many younger people today seeing spirituality -- let alone religion -- as uninteresting and not worth exploring.
In my day, given the above, we were bound to develop a sense of self that was individualistic, separate and isolated, and as such we stumbled forward in constraint and disillusionment. To release the angst of it all -- a sense of repression -- some put their Faith into a “dormant” phase (if they did not reject religion altogether).
Over time, the Church has been sensitive to these evolving ruptures. In recent years, our Popes have worked hard in their teachings to help reveal the truth, the beauty, the joy, and the exhilaration of a restored Faith -- a Faith that acknowledges and celebrates the folding of all life into the divine… and for us, the rise of our true self, our authentic humanity.
It has been said that the true self will only emerge from knowing, embracing and exploring one’s heritage. I am persuaded that with an open mind and through renewed participation in the spiritual culture, traditions, and practices of this “Faith of our fathers,” the joy, beauty, grace, truth, and integrity of its mysteries will reveal themselves over time.
As for me, my Faith still slips into dormancy at times when I might disregard, doubt, or question it. Yet it always resurfaces to stir something in me, challenging and spurring me on, inspiring me on my path. It urges me to expand my field of vision, to try to reconcile so many apparent contradictions, dualities and discrepancies that trouble my life. It prompts me towards moments of stillness and humility, encourages me to explore beyond the immediate suffering and injustice that stroke our existence, and pushes me beyond the joys and the tremendous pleasures that soothe it.
I am perplexed by some tenets of Faith at times, and might conveniently put them aside, or try hard to interpret them liberally, or dismiss them because they might not fit well with the path I prefer to take. Yet, this nagging sense of Faith usually checks me on these meanderings, and summons once again that vision of wholeness… of an authentic humanity.
My Faith challenges me -- in relationships, events, experiences, and in all things -- to see goodness there, when the first response might be to turn away. It challenges me to rise above the pettiness of the moment, to show kindness and love when walking away from or dismissing the other would seem most “natural” or convenient; it challenges me towards a greater mindfulness of the mystical harmony of all being -- towards a more just, loving, joyful and peaceful life in the here and now.
As I meander onward in Faith, I hope to better honour my true heritage -- my full birthright -- and that a more authentic self will emerge.