A friend of mine lost his wife recently after a three-year battle with cancer. Anytime we saw Bill and Margaret together, their total and deep love for each other was obvious. Talking with him and hearing his devotion and connection to her was inspiring. Now as he grieves his loss, he is alone in the same home, taking the same walks, eating meals at about the same time. And yet it is all different. And profoundly sad.
A shared faith that Bill often spoke of was the foundation for their love. They explored what faith meant together. Whether through shared prayer time, reading inspirational writers they both liked (Richard Rohr among their favorites), retreats at a favorite monastery or interpreting the ups and downs of daily life, faith anchored their relationship in love and hope.
Steeped in grief and loss, Bill knows one way out would be to shut down or get really busy to escape the pain. But he is relying on his faith to guide him through the grief. While sad and alone, he believes there is a bigger force that is with him and Margaret and will always keep them spiritually connected.
I have an atheist friend who would most likely find the preceding three paragraphs comical. He is gay and has experienced discrimination and disdain from individuals and institutions and organizations of all kinds, particularly some that claim faith in “God” as their guide. He is capable of raging at this hypocrisy and condemning these institutions. Yet he continues to be one of the most generous men I know when it comes to sharing his many talents with others and going the extra mile to be helpful. Is there not faith somewhere in those choices? Upon my inquiry, he explained he is guided by the principles of secular humanism.
For the past several months, I have focused my posts on the many different ways people experience and live out faith. I chose this “multi-path” focus because I find declarations that one faith is the only true faith exclusive and troubling. I can’t imagine any Higher Power or a God who would want to pit communities against each other. So I share in my blogs different faith experiences to demonstrate the many ways faith gets manifested. And in the process, I continue to inform my own faith in this “big tent.”
While I don’t agree with all his ideas, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who died this month at age 90, observed about faith: “ God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, it only points me to God.”
I also write on this topic because I suspect it is the way forward out of our global discord and disdain for others based on political, economic or religious beliefs. As a world community, we struggle to find language and ideas that allow us to respect each other and to live out the fairly obvious reality that we need each other. Without some transformative experience, we appear to be on a path to eventual destruction of the planet we enjoy and call home.
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, is credited with the notion of a “leap of faith.” There is indeed a leap required to move past all the seemingly irrational and difficult-to-understand realities we face daily. Yet most of us remain resilient. We find a way to keep living and loving and hoping and even working for a gentler and more loving world. Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, posited that we each have inside of us the seeds of that leap of faith.
For me, our individual and collective resilience is a testimony for that seed which, by the way, continues to require nurturing and watering. What undergirds your resilience? What do you call it and how do you nurture it?