What It Means to Have Faith Today: Part I
Note: This article is the first part of a three-part series.
For a whole host of reasons, it can be wildly complicated and confusing to be an adult right now, much less a parent. There’s a lot expected of us. Probably too much. Yet, for many of us, this overwhelming world can actually lead to curiosity about—or even desire for—religious faith.
And if we move toward religious faith, either for the first time or by returning with new eyes to the faith tradition in which we were raised, it’s possible to discover a Bigger Story by which to live.
Any good religion leads to spirituality: mindfulness, prayer, a sense of the interconnectedness of all things. In turn, spirituality allows us to see our lives and see those around us clearly—maybe for the first time. This has certainly been the case for me.
To understand why, it’s probably helpful to unpack the words “postmodernism,” “faith,” and “spirituality.”
In the book Horizon & Hopes, Harold Daly Horell, Assistant Professor of Religious Education at Fordham University, says that “postmodernity encourages us to replace seemingly universal ideals . . . with a more limited sense of patching together a framework for understanding.”
In other words, our postmodern culture tells us there’s no overarching narrative to our lives and we must piece together our own understanding of why we’re here and where we’re going. There is no Universal Truth. But for many of us, this doesn’t ring true to our own experiences, especially when we consider our most profound experiences of love and loss.
There’s a grandness, a tragic beauty to life, and we have plenty of moments, especially with our own children, when we recognize the presence of God, even though not all of us would describe these moments as such. We feel that we—all of us—are supposed to be here, that we are part of a Bigger Story.
It’s all too full of wonder for there not to be one.
This is directly related to “faith,” a word that I think is best described by Ram Dass in his book Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart: “Faith is what is left after all your beliefs have been blown to hell.”
Isn’t this how it happens? We grow up seeing the world in a particular way, and time after time we have to reevaluate our worldview based on what happens to us and what we experience with the people in our lives.
If we allow ourselves to be changed—which we might be afraid of but is essential for growth—then we stop believing certain things. We have to let go of certain conceptions of ourselves. And eventually we might get to the point where we have to have faith in something beyond ourselves, because we suddenly understand that we actually know very little. And sometimes we don’t even know who we are.
We live in a time in which we’re overloaded with contradicting ideas, messages, philosophies, dogmas, advertisements, and information. We’ve been led to believe that it’s on us to make sense of things on our own. Sure, it’s exciting to have so much access to knowledge all the time, but it’s also totally overwhelming.
The world’s great religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others—offer centuries and centuries of accumulated wisdom about how to live well. We can look to ancient tradition to help us make wise decisions and move forward to where we are supposed to be.
Having faith means humbling oneself to the Great Mystery and saying, I don’t understand it all, but I know there’s Something More. Religion provides the structure for helping us understand this Something More—it gives us a Bigger Story. And spirituality allows us to connect to that story because it’s all about experiencing life in a way that allows us to better perceive the Divine Presence.
Here’s some helpful background information on the word “spirituality,” from Philip Sheldrake’s Spirituality: A Very Short Introduction:
Sheldrake helps us distinguish between living spiritually and living according to how postmodern culture tells us we should live. Ironically, by focusing on “personal satisfaction, comfort, or success,” we usually don’t find them, but when live spiritually, we do.
When practiced with both intentionality and openness, religious faith leads to a spiritual “approach to life,” which allows us to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. We become more discerning. We make better decisions. And yes, we’re more likely to be satisfied with who we are, comfortable in our own skin, and successful in our pursuits.