What Faith Means to Me

What Faith Means to Me
What Faith Means to Me

We think of faith in this country as homogenous, don’t we?

I mean, we see the United States as a Christian nation. It’s almost a given, the only differences coming via denominations, from the most fundamentalist to the outer reaches of liberal churches, and every biblical belief system in between.

In this country, anyway, if someone asks if you believe in God, it’s the Christian God they’re talking about.

But if you grew up in Tibet, you’d think the same way—only you’d be Buddhist. And puzzled that everyone else is not.

So much of what we believe was taught to us as children, in our family homes.

Or, not.

According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40% of people say they go to church every week, but statistics show that fewer than 20% actually attend.

Of course, attending church doesn’t give us an accurate idea of how people perceive religious affiliation. And statistics vary as to how folks identify their religions as well.

But religious affiliation and faith are different beasts, no?

We all know the folks who people the pews every time the church doors open, but seem to practice little of what they profess. Conversely, we also know those who never darken the doors, yet exemplify the teachings of the Christ with every breath.

And of course, someone’s faith meter is not ours to judge J

Although judge, we do. Wars are fought over this every day . . .

One phenomenon that has always brought awe, which crosses pretty much every religious affiliation, is the revelation experience. You know—where you have a personal encounter with a higher power, whatever you perceive that to be.

Perhaps you’ve had a profound one. Perhaps none at all. Or maybe you’re seeking that very thing.

Although humans have experienced such wonders since the dawn of mankind, a slippery slope exists here. So often, they take that personal revelation of the divine as something that everyone now “should” (or even must) believe.

I.e., seizing the personal experience and mandating it for all others.

Which is kinda tough to effect, since quite conflicting religious groups say all people now must believe as they do, act as they do, or Hell’s doors will open wide to swoop them in.

They profess to have that perfect bead on what the divine actually is.

Quite often, the approach is, “If you don’t believe what (whichever god) I do, then let me explain so you’ll get it. And if you still don’t, let me keep beating you in the head with it until you understand how right I am.”

Or, in the extreme, cut off your head entirely.

But as the Dalai Lama said when asked the difference in Catholicism and Buddhism:

“Same path, different walking stick.”

I’ve studied (and been a part of) different religious groups. I do confess—that’s been a while back.

Once you dig deep into the core though, they all resonate with parallel Truths.

For example, amazing when you study them how alike the original creation myths across ancient cultures were. The heart within them beats to a matching rhythm. Likewise the savior motifs, which unfold with identical patterns and designs.

And the plethora of pitfalls are the same as well, as the human ego attempts to grapple with and indeed tame the numinous divine. A divine which exceeds our grasps in this lifetime.

How often we make god in our own images . . .

I love the work of Joseph Campbell, and have studied him for decades. In the Masks of Eternity, he explores how all of our names and images for God are merely masks. They simply represent that ultimate essence, which transcends language and art. Which rises beyond this life.

And they simultaneously reveal and obscure the deeper divine.

“Well, you have to go past the image . . .” Campbell said. “The image of God becomes the final obstruction. Your God is your ultimate barrier.”

Now we’re getting to faith.

The deeper divine, Campbell said, is one of transcendence, and experience. It has to be felt, has to shift from the head to the heart, from thinking to feeling, residing in what we call the soul.

Faith, to me, isn’t dogma. But rather, that experience of the divine, which resides in the inner reaches of the heart and echoes softly there. If you have a divine revelation that is different from mine, I do not believe yours is wrong.

I honor the sacred within us all.

As Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

I’m much more interested in how your faith dwells in your life; how by following the Truths found there, your world and therefore the greater one is enhanced and enriched. I love knowing how your walking stick helps guide your path.

Whether you believe in the God of Abraham, or the savior figure of Jesus, or

follow the Buddha, find your soul in the Hindu god Krishna, are drawn to the Great Mother in all of her incarnations, pray to your ancestors every night before sleep, or any of the other myriad belief systems, I just want to know what truths you’ve unearthed.

But more, I want to know how the experience of the numinous surges through your soul.

Because faith is that very thing in the end that eludes fact, historical, empirical, or otherwise. You know, that evidence of things not seen.

As Campbell said:

“Every god, every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: it is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.

He who thinks he knows doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows.”

What does faith mean to you?

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Hi Susan,

    I love questions like this? And of course, I loved Joseph Campbell and all his works too! As far as the word “faith” goes, I don’t normally think of it in the same way you are writing about–but I have absolutely no problem agreeing with what you said. To me, faith is more about the trusting of what I perceive to be God ( god) depending on how you look at it. Believing fully (and trusting) in the Wholeness of All, All That Is, etc, is where the word “faith” usually applies in my normal way of thinking.

    But regardless of how we choose to define It, or the name we call It, I think your deeper question about how it works in our daily life is the most important. If it isn’t something that brings us peace, joy, and wellbeing, then why? And there is a good chance that the crisis of “faith” in our country is because older religions have not adapted well enough to current times to offer people with a level of understanding that really makes a difference.

    I so agree that the study and exploration of this is one of The Most important things we can do in our lives. Thank you for bringing it up because it isn’t something you just figure out once…it needs to be a constant part of our lives. ~Kathy

    1. I think you hit the definition of faith, Kathy–“trusting of what I perceive to be God ( god) depending on how you look at it. Believing fully (and trusting) in the Wholeness of All, All That Is, etc,” That is, faith, isn’t it. And so true that people often have a hard time relating to older religions–especially as they are interpreted in our culture.
      We do revisit this topic in our own lives, often. Especially as we grow!

  2. “God” has been revealed to me a few times. Working as a general practice nurse, I had left the room of a patient who had just died. Walking past the nursery, I saw the newborn there, and realized that I had not once left the room of a dying patient without there being a newborn there. And so, the premise of the circle of everlasting life was fortified in my belief system. My son was involved in a serious sporting accident about 12 yrs ago. He was being tended to by EMS. I remember thinking that I didn’t know how this would play out; an overwhelming sense of peace came over me as I surrendered the outcome to a higher power. In times of strife, I go to these moments. I live in the country surrounded by nature and the rhythm of the seasons. It’s hard for me not to believe. As for formal religion, the Protestant church in my hometown has a “for sale” sign on it.

    1. I love both of those stories, Mona. How powerful, leaving the room of a patient who just died and seeing a newborn immediately after. That sure brings it home, doesn’t it. And what a testament to be able to surrender the outcome of your own son! Thank you so much for sharing these stories!

    1. I love Adler, John! Joseph Campbell lined out the 12 stages of the hero’s quest first, then Adler expanded. It’s actually the story structure I teach my writers as well 🙂

  3. Walking sticks … hmmmm. I suppose that works though, as a tool, the most common uses would be crutch or weapon. And though I appreciate the value of myth and recognize its importance in our ability to understand the world, I have a difficult time with Joseph Campbell who seems much closer to TV preacher than Dalai Lama to me. Campbell also seems to be promoting a “unified theory” of mythology, which I think is a case of having a hammer so everything looks like a nail. I do, however, like René Girard and his use of myth to explain scapegoats and sacrifice in his book ‘I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.’ You asked about the numinous? Here you go: https://afencepost.blogspot.com/2017/04/burning-bush-or-fever-dream.html

    Dexter Turner

    1. Interesting thoughts, Dexter! And Campbell isn’t for everyone. But rather than a “unified theory,” he just points out the similarities in all kinds of myths, in different cultures. That just tweaks me!

  4. What an interesting blog Susan! I could write all day on this! I was just talking to a friend of mine Chet Caskey who just finished his latest book “Confessions of a Religious Fanatic.” When we were talking about religion, he said “I’m nothing.” I replied “I’m everything,” which is probably the same thing. Somehow when I was a little girl, overly aware of God in my life as many of us who don’t feel safe are, I made a decision that God created us in the perfect way to find our way back to God. I still believe this. We each have our own experience of God/Goddess/Creator/Universe. God is Everything and maybe No-thing!

    1. Ah, that’s the key, isn’t it, Candess–we’re nothing. And we’re everything. In that simple perspective lies the key to the universe! And I love that–God created us in the perfect way to find our way back to God. Beautiful!

  5. This is such a thoughtful blog post, Susan, and so interesting. I tend to steer clear of all religion, mainly because there are people involved which kind of contaminates it. I do, however, have a very strong faith. That faith has helped me hang onto sanity during some really stressful and hurtful times. When I speak about a higher power I usually refer to the Universe in an effort not to humanise something so much bigger than us. Or to align with any religion. I have, on a few occasions, been struck by the beautiful strength in that higher power from both within and without.I could go on and on about this and how much I love and agree with the Dalai Lama quote but I’ll tell you a story instead. I took my sons out of scripture at school, partly because I wanted them to have the freedom to explore their own beliefs and partly because the untrained teachers were saying some pretty alarming things. It really upset some people (remember, this is a few decades ago now) and I even got pulled into the Principal’s office. 🙂 Anyway, I was talking to the Principal about faith and religion when my son, around seven years old, came over. I randomly asked him what God/god meant to him. He replied Love.

    1. Oh, Tami, I LOVE that story! Out of the mouths of babes, no? Your son knew, at that tender age, what all the sages of all the different faiths said about god. Love that!

  6. I’ve thought about and studied the religions a lot. There are so many similarities and yet, most wars are fought over religious differences. I’m in a safe little place in the middle of the country and went to, sent my kids to, and now my granddaughter to parochial schools. Not for the indoctrination but the kindness and belief in a purpose higher than themselves. That, to me is the biggest value in organized religion. I’m one of those who goes to church every Sunday – until we get a pastor who irritates me…then I go visiting other parishes or pray at home. I wish we could all appreciate similariites and feel more “sameness”. Thanks for a great post and the opportunity to reflect on it all some more.

    1. So true, Cathy–most of the wars in all of human history were fought over religious differences. Even into present time. Funny too, since at their core, they almost all say the same things . . . My wish as well is that we could appreciate those similarities, and honor each other’s beliefs. Imagine . . .

  7. Love Joseph Cambell’s quote! Theology and politics I ver away from in many discussions as beliefs and feelings become entwined and, wow. Xoxo

  8. I tend to resonate with the Dalai Lama quote, Susan. ““Same path, different walking stick.” I was born into the Jewish faith and from an early age, found religion rather curious to me. I didn’t quite understand why religion separated people. I didn’t understand how something that was supposedly born of spirit, created such a divide among people. How wars were fought and people’s lives were lost.

    Throughout the years I have studied different beliefs and currently, I am very aligned with Marianne Williamson and how clearly she presents the content of A Course in Miracles. I admit I haven’t read the book or done the workbook. Believing we are part of something grander than ourselves, is what faith is to me. And what is God…LOVE. That is really all there is. When you have faith in love, the whole world changes, doesn’t it? Thanks for the thoughtful post this week.

    1. Oh, absolutely, Beverley–“when you have faith in love, the whole world changes.” Love that!
      Do the Course in Miracles workbook. It’s truly fabulous! And only takes a few minutes a day. You’ll love it!

  9. You’ve got me into a thoughtful mood, Susan, because this is a topic over which I’ve had discussions, some of them very heated with me being told I had no faith.

    On the contrary, I do have faith – faith in a higher power and trust that at the end of this life, I will return to Source, God or the Ultimate Supreme.

    Religion for me is a way of life and all roads lead to the Divine. There is no hard and fast rule about which religion is best or whose God is better.

    As a practicing Hindu, I read and believe the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita but when it comes to pondering about the afterlife, the Tibetan concept of Bardo appeals to me.
    I remember as a child I was scared of bad dreams and ghosts and for many years, I slept with a small Bible and the Hanuman Chalisa wrapped together in a red silk cloth under my pillow.

    I felt safe and secure and never thought about religion or any thing like that. All I knew was that I felt secure and protected and the bad dreams and ghosts didn’t dare trouble me.

    That is Faith. 🙂

    1. Oh, the child in you knew, even then, Vatsala! Isn’t it funny how children often do, and adults fight to change kids’ beliefs into their own.
      You and I are so on the same page here. I too believe all roads lead to the Divine. And that at the end of this life, we return to our Source, whatever we believe that to be.
      Love your thoughts!

  10. This is really thought provoking and I can definitely say that the religion’s portrait of faith did not work for me.. I could only feel separation. Faith for me is in the knowing that we are the source and we are supported in all of our desires!

    1. I’m with you, Jonita! That’s faith to me as well.

  11. Faith for me in a strong knowing that all is well. I do feel that all religions at their core profess the same thing. That there is a divine source guiding us

    1. I believe that too, Alene. And when I can get quiet and listen . . .

  12. You reach on point in life when you have to decide for yourself. Some will choose to go with what they have been taught. Others will go off on their own and discover for themselves. I prefer the path to Love rather than the path to Hell

    1. Oh, Joyce, I love this: ” I prefer the path to Love rather than the path to Hell.” Beautifully said!

  13. So the biblical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1 and I apply it in my life as looking ahead and seeing what God has promised and then believing that regardless of the circumstances. Faith does not have to see something to believe it–it cannot be defined by the five physical senses but it is a tangible force that effects the natural and physical world.

    1. Isn’t the definition of faith in Hebrews just it, Rachel–no matter what belief system one follows. And so true–faith is a tangible force!

  14. Yes, proving one’s faith or religion has been a debate for many years. The sad part is that it has caused many lives, not only before but also up to now. Definitely, understanding will take forever if people will always prove themselves to be right and others to be wrong.

    1. Absolutely, Lorii. And never more apropos than today, sadly . . .

  15. You given me some things to think about. Well done.

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