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Renewing Our Faith in Life

As we continue this conversation on renewing faith, let me reiterate that faith is not to be confused with belief, or adherence to certain religious doctrine, or even belief in a certain God. Faith is about trusting the essential benevolence in another, in life, in the Universe, or in ourselves.

Buddha once said, “Faith is the beginning of all good things.” And, Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg writes, “No matter what we encounter in life, it is faith that enables us to try again, to trust again, to love again. Even in times of immense suffering, it is faith that enables us to relate to the present moment in such a way that we can go on, we can move forward, instead of becoming lost in resignation or despair. Faith links our present-day experience, whether wonderful or terrible, to the underlying pulse of life itself. A capacity for this type of faith is inherent in every human being.” 

In contemplating faith in life, I can’t seem to separate it from faith in Something More, a Sacred Presence, the Ground of our Being, the Universe, Love Energy. Do you separate the two? For me, God is so intimately intertwined with our lives that pulling them apart is like separating the ingredients of cookie dough once it is mixed.

There are many things that can increase our faith in life and God: the kindness of others, nature, synchronicity, gratitude, the inevitable changing of the seasons, witnessing another's faith.

There was once a woman who attended a lovingkindness meditation retreat. In this Buddhist meditation one sends out lovingkindness to all sentient beings everywhere. Sadly, this woman had just had a miserable year filled with a great deal of loss and disappointment. The only thing that had been keeping her going was the knowledge that someone somewhere, whom she’d never met, who didn’t know her situation, was actually sending her lovingkindness (by virtue of her being a sentient being). She said that this knowledge, this faith, was “the singular force that had given her the strength to go on, to keep her heart from breaking during difficult times.” 

All of us, at every moment, by virtue of being sentient beings, are the recipients of someone’s lovingkindness meditation. That knowledge does increase my faith in life, in others, in this world.

There are also many things that undermine our faith in life and God: cynicism, violence, illness, times of struggle and heartache, cruelty and hatred, seeing the lack of compassion and understanding in this world.

One of the biggest challenges of having faith in life is not allowing it to be dependent on getting what we want, or on things going well, or upon only encountering nice people. Faith, to be faith, is rooted in a confidence in something we can’t see. Faith, to be faith, isn’t certainty in an outcome. Faith is trusting in a goodness that permeates all things (though sometimes it seems to get ignored or lost.)

Etty Hillesum was a deeply mystical young Jewish woman who kept a journal of her thoughts, feelings, experiences and her understanding of God. For three months, Etty had been in Camp Westerbork, a holding camp for the Jews before being transported to the death camps, when she wrote a final letter to her dear friend Maria, five days later she was taken by train to Auschwitz.

In this letter she writes, “How terribly young we were only a year ago on this heath, Maria! Now we’ve grown a little older. We hardly realize it ourselves: we have become marked by suffering for a whole lifetime. And yet life in its unfathomable depths is so wonderfully good. Maria – I have come back to that time and time again. And if we just care enough, God is in safe hands with us despite everything, Maria.”

Despite all the suffering, death and hatred she was surrounded with, she maintained her faith in the goodness of life. She “found within herself an indestructible source of life and goodness and beauty that was greater and deeper and more enduring” than the pain all around her. Etty was the epitome of Proverbs 3:3-6 which says: 

Never let love and faithfulness abandon you – wear them like a necklace around your neck; inscribe them on the tablet of your heart. Then you’ll enjoy kindness and a good reputation from both God and people. Trust Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t rely on your own understanding; acknowledge God in everything you do, and God will direct your paths.

As I consider what helps me maintain my faith in life, I think it comes down to listening and awareness.

Listening for that which is beyond my ego… a presence that is calm, balanced, loving, peaceful, sure. A Presence that has a bigger perspective to offer when we get caught up in our dramas and stories. It reminds me of us as adults watching our children and seeing what is so important to them at the moment, yet how it is simply a drop in the bucket of life. We’re more able to see the big picture. 

Awareness… of beauty, of kindness, of our interconnectedness. It takes effort to be aware of these things some days. To consciously step out of our troubles to see the intricate web of veins on a leaf, to appreciate the sunshine on our face, to acknowledge a friendly smile or helping hand. There is a deep benevolence in the world, and the more we look for it, the more we see it.

Never let love and faithfulness abandon you.

Love & Light!