Faith as Practice

Faith is trust. Christians have often concealed this simple fact by teaching that faith is believing certain things about God, Jesus and the church. However, faith is not a matter of belief. Faith is not believing this or that, but trusting in the eternal Spirit in which we live and move and have our being.

Understanding that faith is trust is not just a matter of the meaning of words but of salvation, for salvation is discovering that life is a wondrous gift and that nothing can separate us from the Spirit of love. 

There are two sides to faith. One is letting go of the desire to be in control, and trusting in the eternal Spirit of life. All the great religious teachers have this kind of faith, a deep sense that the world is nurturing and loving, despite all the evidence to the contrary. This is, as is sometimes said, a "leap of faith," a trusting in that which is not self-evident, a giving of oneself to that which is only verified by life itself.

The other side of faith is what we do on a daily basis — our practice. By practice I mean not only the spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation, but also what we mean when we talk about practicing tennis or golf or a musical instrument. Those who have played tennis or golf or a musical instrument can feel within themselves what it is like to swing a racket or a club or to play a song. Those who pray or meditate regularly also know the feeling that comes with this practice.

Faith is repeating certain activities that through repetition become ingrained in us. Of course, just as there are bad habits, there can be bad faith. Many people today entrust themselves to drink and drugs, or to work habits which drain them of their joy and compassion. What is important to see is that faith is not good because it involves certain beliefs, but because it takes the form of habits which turn our lives toward God and our neighbors.

The text read this morning from the Bible reminds us of the simple practices that the first followers of Jesus took up. In Acts 1:12-14 we read that the women and men, who became the first church, "engaged constantly and with one mind in prayer." And in Acts 2:44-47 we learn that the faithful shared goods, attended the temple daily, and ate their meals at home together. These simple acts of prayer and sharing became the habits of faith of the early church.

In my own life the practice of faith has taken three distinct forms. First, for twenty years I have prayed and meditated every morning (or almost every morning). After some yoga exercises, I sit and sing a Psalm, read a passage from the Bible, sing an alleluia, meditate in silence for a time, and then say the Lord's Prayer.

I do not hear voices, nor do I see visions, during this time of prayer and meditation, and I cannot even say that the experience is particularly meaningful in and of itself. It is more like a good habit, which is good because it feels familiar and comforting and because it seems to make it easier to let go of my worries and self-centered concerns.

A second practice of faith in my life is the way I have taken up some of the household chores of family life. I have a large family and a working wife, so it was necessary that I help with the cooking and the cleaning and with childcare. At first, I felt trapped by all these household duties, and so I can well appreciate how women feel, who have been expected to find their meaning and fulfillment in doing housework and raising a family. Though my practice, however, I realized that if I could do my chores in the same way I was praying, I might be free of my frustration.

Of course, doing menial tasks has long been understood as a spiritual discipline in the religious traditions of the West as well as the East. So, I learned, what many others have learned, that one can take on these chores and at the same time let go of the feeling that there are more important things to be doing. Chores can be just like prayer and meditation, a way of accepting and entering into life as it is.

A third practice of faith in my life has had to do with parenting. While this is obviously related to doing household work, it differs in that as a parent I have often felt like a failure. If doing household chores was frustrating, at times being a parent was devastating. Often my children didn't accept my council and even defied me. More than once, one of them told me I was ruining her life!

There were times when I wanted to give up on my children and on myself as their father. However, my practice of prayer and meditation, and my acceptance of household chores as a spiritual discipline, helped me to accept the inevitable disappointments of parenting and to let go of my desire to see my children all doing what I thought they should be doing. I was able to separate myself from the hurt and anguish of parenting, and entrust my children as well as my parenting to the eternal Spirit of love.

In saying that I "was able" to do this, I do not mean to imply that faith is something we accomplish. The old saying "practice makes perfect" has some truth in it and applies to faith as well. Yet, the perfecting of our faith through practice is not an accomplishment. We are strengthened in our practice by the Spirit of life that "blows where it wills." Faith is not a personal achievement but a way of letting go, so that the Spirit of love can do its work in and through us. If we are saved through faith, it is only because in faith we give up our striving and receive the gifts of the Spirit, which enable us to live our lives, as they are, to the full.

Therefore, I commend to you faith as practice. If you can open your hearts and minds to the eternal Spirit of life, in prayer and meditation, you will find the joy of life that is there for all with ears to hear and eyes to see. If you can enter into your daily activities with a joyful heart, and let go of your fears that your life is not turning out the way you would like, you will find peace. If you can trust that nothing can separate you from the One who will always love you, no matter what, you will find salvation. 

June 14, 1992 © Robert Traer 2016