Funny thing happened on the way to preparing this week’s small group ministry session: I became a little uncomfortable with the material offered on the subject at SpiritualityandPractice.com. They define it a couple of different ways in the “basic practice” section of Faith. One definition is “an acceptance of certain religious doctrines.” The other is “an awareness of and an attunement to God’s presence in our everyday experiences.” If these are the only definitions of faith available to us, I could imagine many humanists answering the question posed in the title of this blog with a hearty, “Absolutely nothin’, say it again, ya’ll!” And I wouldn’t blame ’em.
Which is why I’ve spend a lot of my time passing along this (hopefully) more palatable definition of faith by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, “Faith at its best has taken the form of a quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe.” (I found this, by the way, in “Faith Reduced to Three Questions,” an excellent—and brief—essay on the subject by Judith Frediani from her days as Director of Lifespan Faith Development at our Unitarian Universalist Association). I’ve found that this definition is generally greeted with nods of agreement by UUs of all theological persuasions, so I wanted to present it as a foundation for the following small group ministry session on Faith. Oh, and I’m adding graphics to all future posts because, well, that’s just what you do in the blogosphere these days.
In Buddhism faith is nourished by understanding. The practice of looking deeply helps you to understand better. As you understand better, your faith grows. — Thich Nhat Hanh in Going Home
An Excerpt from Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg
Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg melds incidents from her life and Buddhist teachings to re-imagine this important human faculty. Here she makes distinctions between beliefs and faith.
When we hold a belief too tightly, it is often because we are afraid. We become rigid, and chastise others for believing the wrong things without really listening to what they are saying. We become defensive and resist opening our minds to new ideas or perspectives. This doesn’t mean that all beliefs are accurate reflections of the truth, but it does mean that we have to look at what’s motivating our defensiveness. . . .
With their assumptions of correctness, beliefs try to make a known out of the unknown. They make presumptions about what is yet to come, how it will be, what it will mean, and how it will affect us. Faith, on the other hand, doesn’t carve out reality according to our preconceptions and desires. It doesn’t decide how we are going to perceive something but rather is the ability to move forward even without knowing. Faith, in contrast to belief, is not a definition of reality, not a received answer, but an active, open state that makes us willing to explore. While beliefs come to us from outside — from another person or tradition or heritage — faith comes from within, from our active participation in the process of discovery. Writer Alan Watts summed up the difference simply and pointedly as, ‘Belief clings, faith lets go.’
Questions: Talk about a time when you found the ability to move forward in your life, even without knowing what was yet to come.
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The whole future of the Earth, as of religion, seems to me to depend on the awakening of our faith in the future.
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quoted in Spirit of Fire by Ursula King
To Practice This Thought: Consider writing a personal creed. Begin by listing “Beliefs I No Longer Have” and “Beliefs I Now Have.”
For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Faith.
For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.