Photo Credit: Katherine Siebert
As the darkest days of the year arrive in the northern hemisphere, my heart is aching with the knowledge of just how conflicted the world is. So many people not only fail to find comfort in faith, but actually struggle with the concept of belief itself. There is a crisis of engagement – in service clubs and churches and political issues, just to name a few. And it begs the question: what does it mean to believe in something?
Nearly a decade ago, I listened to a CBC Radio Tapestry interview with spiritual writer Kathleen Norris. In the interview, she was talking about the evolution of language and faith. She explained that, “up until the Enlightenment, the word “belief” in the English language referred to relationship, rather than knowledge. To say one believed in God was to say that one was engaged with Him.” This explanation has rooted itself in my soul.
Our world has so intellectualized the idea of belief that it is almost as if we think things into existence. No wonder we are struggling with the notion of faith!
When we say “I believe in you” to someone that we care about, we do not mean to say that we intellectually affirm their existence, or that we know all there is to know about them. To say “I believe in you” is to say something of our connection to another person. We mean to say that we are with them. That they are not alone. That we hear them speaking, even if others do not. We mean that we glimpse some part of the miracle of them. That we see them and love them. We are engaged in a relationship that matters.
I believe in belief. That it isn’t possible to walk on the earth without trusting in things I cannot prove definitively myself. I wake up and trust the sun will rise. I turn the key in my car and believe it will start, despite having only basic knowledge about how an engine works. I make an appointment with a doctor and believe that their training and advice will help me to make decisions about my health.
Thousands of times a day, I believe the world will show up for me, and it does. Still, there is so much cynicism in the world right now. And we are suffering because we are too often seduced into thinking that our belief is inconsequential. It is not.
To believe is to be engaged with what we believe in. To be drawn into love and compassion and care for the people and causes and things that engage our minds and hearts, our resources and our time. If belief is merely knowledge, then we stand to gain certainty. But if belief is relationship, we are offered connection, belonging, and participation as the payoff of engagement.
I have been working to be more intentionally engaged with my beliefs as an act of resistance against the indifference and cynicism that discourages me. When I say that I believe in stewardship, it translates into changing my purchasing habits. I am buying fewer things, repairing what I already have, and working to substantially reduce waste. Believing in healing means having difficult conversations, admitting my own errors, and doing the work to change the harmful behaviour I have used to protect myself once I realize what it is.
I believe in a God who has shown up for me over and over again with grace and mercy. To be engaged with this Spirit is to be constantly surprised by joy and wonder, growth and laughter, compassion and possibility. There is so much stretching in being connected to a Being so big and deep and beyond me. This relationship is the heart of how I love the world – in all its beauty and brokenness.
I believe in this utterly incomprehensible world. That it is worth working to build communities and connection. I believe that compassion is more important than being right. That honesty and integrity and humility will carry us. And I believe that love is more powerful that destruction and death. And so, I will be engaged in the world to be a part of how that comes to be.