What It Means To Have Faith Today: Part III
Note: This article is the third part of a three-part series.
So many of us, myself included, are obsessed with being “busy.” Our culture is all about efficiency—about getting as much done as possible, as quickly as possible.
This is true even in the way we physically move from one place to another. In his essay “An Entrance to The Woods,” Wendell Berry puts it this way:
“We seem to grant to our high-speed roads and our airlines the rather thoughtless assumption that people can change places as rapidly as their bodies can be transported.”
Modern life seems to dictate that we cannot fully experience our lives. This is especially true for parents, as we’re in charge of not only our own schedules at work and at home, which are apparently supposed to be packed, but also our kids’ schedules, which are apparently supposed to be packed, too.
By staying busy with work and/or kids during the day—and mindless entertainment at night after the kids go to bed—we often don’t give ourselves the time or space to have meaningful conversations with the people in our lives. Additionally, we often feel like we cannot give ourselves the gifts of silence and solitude. Without regular intervals of silence or solitude, being present at any given time becomes next to impossible.
For us and for our kids, we need to live differently. A recent article in Forbes calls our obsession with busyness an addiction and reminds us that we need to remember who we really are:
“The fact is, you are not your accomplishments . . . Busyness may make you feel like you’re winning at life, but at the same time, it takes away your life without you even noticing.”
Most of us have a deep, inner sense that there’s something not quite right about the way our culture tells us to move through the world.
We know we are never going to catch up to where we’ve been told (implicitly or explicitly) we’re supposed to be. And we know our kids shouldn’t be subjected to the same absurd expectations.
This is where faith and spirituality come into the picture.
Having faith today needs to involve recognizing the frenetic pace of moving through our days that our culture expects us to keep every day. Then, we can look to our religious tradition for wisdom about how to live well. Living a life of faith today should mean making a conscious effort to avoid operating at a pace that makes us feel each night like our day somehow happened to us—as if we were not in control.
I would argue that this is why the mindfulness movement is so popular right now. It’s a non-religious response—with religious roots—to our collective experience of being perpetually overwhelmed.
But as people of faith, we can draw upon the wisdom of our religious traditions to dive even more deeply into mindfulness than a few guided meditations can offer. For example, any progress I’ve made in this regard can be attributed to the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer, particularly as taught by Father Richard Rohr.
Sometimes all it takes is a couple minutes of reading or reciting a prayer, or just closing my eyes sitting in silence, to remember that I am not my thoughts and feelings—that my True Self (or “soul”) is the subject (or authority), and my thoughts and feelings are objects that I can control.
In this way, I regain control of my life. I’m reminded of who I really am.
It’s difficult to remember and/or prioritize to take the time to do this each day, but whenever I do, the results are immediate. I feel re-centered, like I can see things for what they are. I’m better able to actively listen to others during conversations, and I feel happier, more calm, and more connected to the world. Everything seems so much more worthy of delight.
I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem “Today,” which ends with this short stanza: “Stillness. One of the doors / into the temple.” It’s true; when we whisper our quiet prayers into the universe, or just sit and let the universe whisper to us, we sense the divine.
Contemplative practices exist in other traditions as well, of course. Definitely Buddhism, but also Judaism and Islam. And interestingly, in any tradition, those who practice contemplative prayer seem to be the most accepting of other religions and/or other ways of seeing the world. They understand that any good spiritual practice points to the same Ultimate Reality. At a time when our society seems hopelessly divided, this is more important than ever.
The more attention we give to the spiritual dimensions of our lives, the more attuned we become to the Divine Presence and its gentle nudges to let ourselves experience the fullness of the people and places in our lives.
This is why I think it’s helpful to participate in religious rituals in community, too. There’s a collective growth that can occur in faith communities—the kind of growth that inspires people to do good things in the world, starting at home and then extending into communities and whole nations.
Having faith today means recognizing that the world can be seen more clearly—that there’s a Bigger Story in which we all play a crucial part—and then, in the company of others, exploring the centuries of accumulated wisdom within our religion.
Spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer come out of this kind of exploration, and it is in this way that we come to find a clarity of vision—a stronger sense of who we are and what we are here to do.
With all of this in mind, may each and every one of us find the space in our days to sit in silence and/or pray a short prayer. Even if it’s just one minute here and one minute there. Even if we don’t know if we’re doing it right. Even if it’s in the bathroom between meetings.
Because no matter what, faith begins with seeking to experience the life-changing truth that the Divine Presence speaks to us through the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God.”