There is a dynamic tension between “church” and “faith“. Seeking an understanding of the very definitions, the meaning and practice of each, is embedded in the secular, in cultural and ethnic perspectives, in the digital world. Variables like personal experience, familial ties and even birth order can play a role. Porous and dense, the terms themselves obscure clarity and resonance. And yet, there is a gift in each.
“Faith” is a confidence in something greater than self, something intangible and yet concrete. For me, it is trusting in the existence of a higher power, a transcendent reality, and living to nurture that trust in belief and actions. It is a strength of belief that rests in a trustworthy other. It is about prayer, a comfort in quiet, an attentitveness to persons and to nature, to the who and how of creation. It is about anchoring the mysterious dimensions of human existence in the realm of the spiritual with a certainty that the spiritual exists in complementary comprehensible and incomprehensible realities.
“Church”, on the other hand, refers to the gatherings of believers in groups with the rituals that bind and build community and the traditions that celebrate and sometimes sustain faith. “Church” is a collection of flawed individuals somehow seeking the same thing, the grace of becoming better persons following a particular path with all its pockmarks and potholes and intricate turns. “Church” grants places and positions, status and service opportunities. It is a closed circuit, in a way, with light as the hopeful byproduct. And there are many moments when its malfunction or dysfunction generate a chaotic confusion that diminishes and even damages both church and faith.
“Faith” offers an alternative to that confusion. “Faith” at its depth offers forgiveness with confidence and purpose. “Faith” can see the brokenness and dares to move from accusation to change, adaptation, and forgiveness. “Faith” does not cry for revenge nor demand restitution: instead, “Faith” quietly embraces the chance to re-order, re-build and restore what has been hurt and broken. Inspired by trust and imbued with hope, “Faith” fuels resilience without rancor, judgement or stigma. “Faith” accepts reality and understands the cultural complexity of human communication and process, but it is far more than the organization or the institution.
In this time, when social, political and religious institutions are questioned and challenged and discredited at every turn, there issues a tempting option. Walk away from the church and its abuses, crimes and failings. Be done with the hierarchy and the traditions. Find a way more comfortable, less hypocritical and demanding. Fill the time another way more meaningful and significant to self.
And then there is the very gentle whisper of “Faith” . “Faith” means looking humbly into the mirror and seeing the truth that each of us is capable of so much more than suspected, that there but for the grace of God go I…..“Faith” means finding the resources within self to proffer forgiveness, to be willing to help re-build, to trust that God is weeping with us but not abandoning us. “Faith” finds its home in forgiveness of self and others, in attempting to move forward with courage, a sense of responsibility and an awareness of purpose, and a consciousness of intention.
In a secular world where the gift of science has all but replaced what was perceived as mystery, there is still a place for belief in that higher power, that sense of providence. “Faith” offers the trust that is an antidote to narcissism and a coping mechanism for anxieties. It is the recognition of the Unknowable; even in the Digital Age, there are simplicities left to be practiced and explored. If that can be in the quiet of a sanctuary, before a monstrance in a chapel, steadily fingering a rosary, so be it. It is mindfulness with an attentiveness to that which transcends human difference and connects human journeys.
A church can exist as a structure, a building, but to be a community, members of a church need more than the bond of ritual and tradition. To be a living, breathing presence in a community, a church needs members gifted with faith who dare to waltz with confidence in the Divine and a deep grasp of the secular.