This week’s post continues our series on the different ways people define, develop and communicate about faith. Our guest contributor is Meredith Heneghan, a twenty-something who grew up in WI, moved to the Twin Cities for college and currently resides in St. Paul. After college, she spent a couple of years working on a farm before moving to the city to work for a neighborhood art museum. As we complete the celebration of our nation’s commitment to freedom, her theme of faith in faith is instructive.
Having faith means voluntarily finding what’s true, and doing it critically, and with empathy. To have faith is to have faith, and that’s really it! In my experience, the most satisfying faith community is the one that says “we don’t have all the answers, but let’s figure it out together.”
I grew up with grandiose symbols of moral authority—priests and churches were somber, fancy places where faith was on display, not present in action but present in saying they were. I believed for a long time that the more you claimed to be of faith, the more faith you had. While that might be true on some psychosocial or psychological level, it’s not the full reality, and the type of faith that was presented to me as ultimate, superior and desirable was limited.
There was a kid I grew up with, a girl I was friends with for years, who most parents and teachers would consider “sassy.” She may have been disrespectful at times, but she always told the truth. I remember her asking in sixth grade — demanding — that one of our childhood parish priests describe in critical detail why women couldn’t be ordained into Catholic priesthood. She was never satisfied by the answers (the answers are, indeed, unsatisfying) and while I was uncomfortable with her tactics, I was impressed by her tenacity to get to the truth, to not be swindled by smooth talk.
It’s easy to subscribe to a smooth faith, one that lets you carry on. But I want faith in something complicated. I want to have faith in stuff that changes, that makes us ask really hard questions and work together to figure out the answers. I don’t want to hear the news or learn something new and explain it away or ignore it based on my faith. I want, instead, to dig into it because of my faith.
My grandma always said that the details don’t matter, and my parents said the same. Reading the “wrong” version of the Bible? Big whoop. Missed the exact wording of the Gospel at church? Who cares, as long as you got the lesson out of it. We had a teacher in high school, Sister Linda, a Bostonian nun raised by a single father. She wore a turtleneck and cardigan every single day, no fuss no muss, and had this saying: All stories are true and some of them really happened.
Her point was that there’s truth in everything, but don’t worry about the details. Trust in the lesson. That’s how I felt when I first started attending Unitarian Universalist services my sophomore year of college. Here were these poetic, thoughtful and engaging services with people who asked important questions about current events. They were not bogged down by old stories and familiar details; they were constantly and creatively seeking truth from everyone, everywhere. A faith community unafraid to tell the truth that Black lives matter, or to invite 12-year-olds to the pulpit to tell the truth about what faith means to them. Yes, please!
Genuine curiosity, generous hospitality and a legitimate call to welcome all, to develop, learn and commune without exclusion. With respect and dignity, let us pray. Wow! This was a whole new world, and the years I spent regularly attending UU services were spiritually rich. They laid a foundation of trust in myself that the faith that comes naturally to each of us is precious, valid and worthy. The faith you come by naturally is not at the expense of an institutional faith you have rejected. In fact, the two can be intertwined. To this day, when I need some comfort or want to praise something wonderful, I say the Hail, Holy Queen prayer — I change the words but keep the rhythm.
I don’t want faith that acts as an excuse, or as an explanation. I want a faith that leads me through reality with care and empathy. I want to be motivated by my faith, not limited by it, and I don’t ever want to feel like I am not good enough for it and never will be. I don’t look to faith in the same ways that many people do, but I don’t see that as a failure, either.
To have faith in one good thing every day is a start. It is also good enough, and can actually be great, revolutionary, dependable and significant. To have faith is to have faith, and that’s really it!