Lived faith

There is the lived faith and the intellectual faith. 

My lived faith is found in prayer and contemplation, in trying to live a good life, and in those signs on the horizon and within myself. In those inner conversations, in seeing a sign in good weather, a kind interaction, a blessed union, an answered prayer. This faith could sustain me, as long as I do not think too hard about the intersection of faith and knowledge. At those crossroads, my faith is fragile.

My intellectual faith is broken: it trips me up perpetually. In that activity we call the pursuit of knowledge. Sometimes there is ease and light and beauty. But at other times merely rebuke: when I sit with the intention of studying and learning and understanding, I find myself no longer at ease. It dismantles my faith piece by piece.

So it is that I frequently close the books shut, moments after making the resolve to ponder and reflect. For instead of elucidating the path ahead, the words afflict me with disquiet. Once more I place them into my overflowing box of questions to be returned to at a later date, and in turn I return to my lived faith in which I find comfort.

Years ago, as I wrestled with my agnosticism, my father said to me, “The older I get, the more doubts I have.” Back then his response to my quest for faith mystified me — particularly when, a few years later, he decided to stand for ordination — but now I imagine I would utter the same response if challenged. There is my lived faith — the faith that is real and true — and then the faith of books, and scholars, and opinions, and interpretations, and history, and conflict, and politics, and science.

So it is that I live in fear: that on the Day of Judgment I will be amongst the losers, whose faith is denied, tossed aside, and rejected, for what I could and could not reconcile. And here is that strange dichotomy: the certainty about the Hour, about the meeting with our Lord — there is my faith — and yet the torment of doubt. Whenever I sit down to read the Book, I feel that it is rebuking me. In my lived faith I feel like there is room for me. In my intellectual faith, I feel like all the doors are closed.

I keep promising myself that I will found my faith upon knowledge, and not mere emotion. But with every attempt I founder. Each year I resolve to spend the month of Ramadan reflecting on the verses of the Book — albeit in English translation — but with every approach, a setback. Soon I return to that lived faith, characterised by an assorted scattering of verses that have touched my heart, lifted out of their true context perhaps. Do good to parents, orphans, neighbours, wayfarers. Stand out firmly for justice, even against yourselves. Be patient in prayer. Walk on the earth with humility. When the ignorant address you, respond ‘Peace’!

In my lived faith I have hope in the mercy of my Lord, despite myself and my multitude of sins. In the intellectual faith I just harbour despair. If I choose one over the other, will my Lord chastise me? For doubts about words printed on a page, for discomfort with strange ideas, for all that I struggle to believe in? The fear is real.

For now, I choose to take small steps. To hold fast to all that I can believe in. To compartmentalise what strengthens and delights me, and what sends me into a spiral of morose despondency. Perhaps such a faith will not be accepted, but it is the only way I know to sustain it. Only the lived faith is my living faith.

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