“Faith seeking understanding” is a good definition of belief. Faith is our experience of God and belief is our attempt to express that experience in word and symbol.
When we attempt to describe our experiences of God, we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals that are products of our culture. In fact, all of our concepts and all of our experiential interpretations are shaped and influenced to a great extent by the culture and the language out of which they emerge.
There is no belief without culture; but there can be a culture without belief. This of course is the situation in which many people find themselves today: in a belief desert. This happens when expressions of belief no longer resonate with contemporary life experience.
It happens as well when people substitute fidelity to doctrinal statements for openness to the Divine presence in all of life. I was there and did that once upon a time. One day, however, I moved from considering God as an article of belief to appreciating God as an element of my experiences. My eyes were opened…. Those experiences convinced me that “God” is real. Now I continue my own belief journey: pondering what I experience, determining how to express that in contemporary language, and connecting my experiences and belief with the experiences of other believers and with Christian scripture and tradition.
We need to find more effective ways to articulate the human experience of the Divine that reduces it neither to the extreme secularity of the “post-theistic” thinkers nor to the unthinking and closed-minded certitude of the “hyper-theistic,” whose god is mostly the creation of their own fantasies.
We need to find ways to understand the Divine presence, not “up there” or “out there” but “here and now” at the heart of all Reality, because that is where we live, love, and think.
Animated by the life, message, and spirit of Jesus, we need to set off on our own spiritual journey.
So……A good project for the New Year. It is best done with a group of friends.
Some spiritual direction for along the way:
(1) A healthy spiritual journey moves forwards not backwards. Nostalgia is fun for a while, but we really cannot turn-back the clock. To become a religious child again would mean to abandon the adult capacity to think and make one’s own judgments on the basis of critical principles. That is why the upsurge of fundamentalism today is so offensive. It is a closed vision and fundamentally faulty.
(2) Pondering our belief today we need to feel and experience the “call” of the Sacred (the Faith experience) by interpreting and thereby re-creating the meaning and power of religious language. The truly contemporary believer must have one foot anchored in the present and the other in the tradition of the past. There must be a dynamic tension between contemporary religious consciousness and historical critical consciousness.
(3) When we explore our belief – when we reflect in depth about our Faith experiences – we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words and rituals which are products of our culture. We also look for the resonance and dialogue with tradition: with the theological expressions of earlier cultures.
(4) Truly authentic Christian belief can never be simply the expression of one’s individual and subjective experience. We need each other. Expressions of belief are the result of deep reflection about my Faith experience AND your Faith experience AND the Faith experience of the community. As I told one of my bishop friends: we need you but you also need us!
(5) Belief relies on culture but can never become locked within a particular culture. Nor can it unthinkingly venerate any particular culture. Some Roman Catholic Church leaders, for instance, are locked in a late medieval culture and still dress and think that way. Nevertheless, when belief becomes so locked within a particular culture that it is hardly distinguishable from it, we are on the road to idolatry.
(6) All cultures perceive reality through their own particular lenses; and these lenses are shaped and adjusted by shared human events and great movements in human history. Change is part of life.
(7) Christian belief, because its focus is what lies within and yet beyond culture in all of its historical manifestations, is continually engaged in critical reflection and critique of the contemporary and previous cultures.
Happy New Year!
(Sorry for the old picture but it seemed to fit….)