Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Does faith stay the same or does it change?


I've been reading a book on the spirituality of the Psalms recently. It's writer, Walter Brueggermann, uses a three-fold classification to speak about the faith of the psalmists which I've found helpful.

First, he claims, there are the many simple psalms of trust. In them the writer/ singer tells of God's safe ordering of the world. In those psalms the world appears a safe place where God is in total control. Such psalms could be said to represent a 'pre-critical' stage of faith where everything is taken on trust, no questions are asked.

But then there are those Psalms which accuse God of being absent or asleep or of not caring. These are a second group: the questioning psalms, 'where are you God?' The writer/singer feels unjustly abandoned. The world is not fair. We might say that such psalms represent a 'critical' stage of faith.

Finally there are those psalms which involved a reconciliation of those two earlier stages. Yes: in the world dreadful things happen, God's power is indeed questionable. But through the storm the psalmist has come to a deeper trust. We could call that a 'post-critical' faith which both contains and surpasses what has gone before.

As I was reading I began to think about my own journey of faith and, indeed, I could see those different stages: naive faith, angry questioning, a deeper acceptance. And it has not happened once but, like a spiral, I go through those processes and (hopefully) find myself ascending in faithfulness.

I found the book's observations helpful. Faith is not static. To have faith means to enter on a journey, not to arrive at a destination. And on that journey both the simple trust and the angry denial have their place...

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Gift

The more I explore faith, the more I come to see that the concept of 'gift' is an essential one.

If I were to put that into an image, I think it would be a picture of a pair of
outstretched hands, palms held upwards (a gesture, appropriately, many use in prayer).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'gift' as 'something, the possession of which is transferred to another without the expectation or receipt of an equivalent'.

Gift resonates with me at many levels:
the gift of the universe,
the gift of my own life within it - for a brief time (who knows how long?)
the gift of those who have loved me.


I have not asked for these things, they have come to me freely, often with an element of surprise. A response of thanks from me has often been forthcoming - but not expected.

Not surprisingly 'gift' seems to be written into the very nature of God:

God, the one who 'gives' space for creation to be,
who, in the Christian tradition, 'gives' God's self in the Incarnation sharing our precarious tragically-beautiful existence,
who 'for-gives' the murder of Christ,
and who returns Christ to the world with the 'gift' of the Spirit.

My wife was in a Bible study group recently discussing the motivations for
sharing faith with others which led us to ponder our feelings on this subject.

On reflection what ultimately drives me as a Christian is the desire to put others in touch with their 'giftedness' so that they may feel and know again the surprise and joy again of their existence.

And beyond that, to encourage them to return 'thanks': to live out their giftedness in such a way that others, too - whose lives may be limited by health, wealth, outlook and environment - can more fully discover their lives as gift.

It's summed up for me at the end of the Anglican Communion service, when after receiving the 'gifts' of bread and wine we pray:

Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ, through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your Spirit, to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.


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