We’ve become conditioned not to trust what we can’t see, touch, or feel. And that may hold true for most things in life, but when it comes to love, we willingly surrender to its mystery. So why are we so less inclined to grant ourselves that same freedom when it comes to professing our faith? Is it simply the fact that we have the eyes to see our mortal wounds, yet are hopeless at finding the words to articulate our mortal healing? Live long enough, and love hard enough, and you will invariably reach a point at which your mortal wounds will be revealed to you, and along with that understanding comes a degree of acceptance that despite your best efforts, some wounds will never heal.
The Buddhists believe that much of humanity is cast adrift in a world of illusion, caught in an endless cycle of “samsara”—birth, a flow through mundane existence, and a return to death. The belief is that at the root of all human suffering is mistaking the illusion of our everyday existence as the essence of life itself. But for me, as a Catholic, the notion of suffering is not something to be dismissed as an illusion or barrier to self-actualization, but rather, as the very means for which I transcend the mundane and touch the divine.
What do we do when catastrophe strikes, or when pain and grief become too heavy to bear? Many of us respond to pain by seeking sanctuary, and for hundreds of years, that solace took the form of a temple, a church, or a mosque. It’s hardly surprising that faith is often referred to as a “spiritual practice” because for the vast majority of us, it is not something natural to us. In fact, everything in our society teaches us to avoid surrender, and instead to wage battle and vanquish our weakness. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts to a spiritual life, and it is only through sustained ritual and practice that our eyes become open to God’s will and grace.
There appears to be less tolerance for the practice of faith in our modern world, a world in which scientism increasingly tells us that all in our way can harnessed and exploited, often at our own peril. No doubt, science and technology have extended our physical, and to a lesser degree, intellectual reach. But an over dependence on human mastery has not come without a great cost. The further we reach into the cosmos, the more likely we are to recognize that it is our faith—our spiritual practice—that allows us to extend our internal reach, thereby strengthening our conscious contact with God and ulltimately, our connection to one another. My faith is akin to mining for spiritual resources hidden deep within me. God lives within each us, and thus by professing our faith, we not only delve the depths of that spiritual mineshaft within us, but by being of service to others, we invite them to embark on that same spiritual exploration.
It’s certainly not easy being a practising Catholic today, and at times, the Catholic faith is seen at best as “quaint” and at other times, a “threat”. When friends ask why I choose to attend mass every day, I struggle to put my faith into words. I do believe that behind the veil of all certainty lies the fragile pulse of vulnerability. And for me, the certainty of my faith arises as I kneel each morning in the church pew, and I’m simply one among many. Each of us has committed in that moment to take that blind leap of faith. But above all, it is that communal fall towards uncertainty that allows me, for the briefest of moments, to feel the presence of God. So asking me to describe that God is like asking me to put words to the depth of joy I find in my wife’s eyes, or that breath that flows through me when I hear the fluttering of an Éric Satie melody, or the way my heart opens when I witness the weightless synchronicity of a pas de deux. My faith feeds me so much more than mere consolation. It awakens me. It challenges me. And at times, it arrests me. In “Verbum Domini”, Pope Benedict says that our faith commands all of us to ministry, and that: "It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.”
One of the great criticisms the Church faces is its adherence to dogma which, at times, seems counter to the social norms. But at the other extreme, a life devoid of faith, lies the religiosity of the individual, a deference to an individual‘s sacrosanct dominion over his or her life. Were we to take that to its extreme, what we are left with is a community of siloed individuals, none willing to sacrifice for the other. But is there another path, another way to bridge our innate desire to conquer and compete with that of a quiet surrender to the call of the divine?
At times, it is my faith that allows me to heal, to strive to bridge that gap between what I want versus what I need. But more often than not, it is my faith that allows me to find strength in quiet surrender. Faith politics not in the language of reason but in the breathless language of awe and prayer. And it is not until I reside in that still point of quiet surrender that I find freedom in my suffering and an affinity in divine grace. And here I find myself once more with my words escaping me, so I will leave you with the evocative lamentation of T.S. Eliot:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.