All the recent discussion around agnosticism, atheism and theism has got me wondering what exactly it is that causes me to identify myself as a believer.
Why do I believe in a transcendent dimension of existence that I choose to call “God”? What are the steps that brought me to a place in life where the idea of trusting in the possibility of a supra-rational reality whose existence I cannot prove or empirically demonstrate does not strike me as embarrassing?
I know my belief has not come about primarily as a result of a rigorous reasoned process of intellectual investigation. And yet my faith is not irrational. I do not believe in spite of reason. The beliefs to which I adhere do not demand that I put my brain in some kind of conscious cold storage. To my mind, faith is no more reasonable or unreasonable than any other possible worldview to which I might commit. I cannot be convinced that only the atheist is truly reasonable, but reason is not the deciding factor in my journey of faith.
I come to faith along a road that is more intuitive than purely rational. My journey involves things half-felt, thoughts ill-formed, impressions and sensations only partially detected. I move forward in what the anonymous 14th century mystical writer called a “cloud of unknowing.”
My path is not illuminated with glaring flourescent lighting; my guide does not announce the way with the sound of a blaring voice. I move towards faith rather at the calling of a gentle whisper; the path is illuminated by the soft light of early morning and the sweet scent of spring.
For the next few days I want to identify some of the ways I have seen that faint light and heard that quiet whisper. These pointers in my life are the aroma of the divine I have detected along the way. None of the pointers that follow are proof of anything. They are merely sign posts that to me have traced the inescapable marks of divinity at the centre of my life.
I offer these points, not in any attempt to convince anyone they should share my conclusions. These are simply the personal stepping st0nes that have led me to a place where faith seems the only possible response.
1. My poverty. For as long as I can remember, I have been unable to completely reconcile myself to the physical, material realm. I have never found this temporal dimension to be ultimately satisfying. I have always experienced a deep restlessness within myself. This has left me with the uneasy sense that there must be something more to life than meets the eye.
Perhaps I just want to escape into a comforting illusion, but, I have always felt that, if it is impossible to find contentment in the pleasures and gratifications of the material realm, perhaps this fact is pointing me to the reality that there is more to life than can be contained by the scientistic rationalist materialist view of the world.
If I was more successful at navigating life in this world, I might not experience this deep hunger for something more. But, the yearning only began to abate in my life when I began to open to the possibility that indeed this longing was guiding me to a dimension of existence that could not be entirely contained by my rational awareness.
I have long been struck by Jesus’ contention that it will be hard,
for the rich to get into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)
People who are more adept at finding their way to “success” in life, may feel less compelled to seek another level of meaning. My failures have constantly called me back to the haunting intuition that there must be something more than the meagre rewards the world offers. I think this was Jesus’ point when he said,
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)
The poverty of so much of my experience of “life” in this world, has pried my heart open to the possibility of a deeper and fuller contentment in an experience that transcends the temporal realities that preoccupy so much of our days.
2. The Bible. Yes, believe it or not, despite all its challenges (and I admit there are many) the Bible continues to play a pivotal role in my journey as a believer. There was a time in my early years of faith, when I had the privilege of hearing a preacher who took the Bible, opened it and used it in such a way that it seemed to speak directly and powerfully to my most profound experience of life.
As he spoke, I found the deepest longings and most mysterious questions of my life were addressed. My questions were not necessarily tidily resolved, but I knew that, at least the words of Scripture were working on the same deep part of my being. It was as if a voice spoke to that part of me that had never been able to settle quite comfortably into the world as I experienced it. It was not simply the voice of the preacher or the words of the book. Something reached through those words and touched a deep place in my life. As the words sounded in my heart, I began to feel that some of the tangle and mess of my life was beginning to find peace.
I do not read the Bible for “answers” to intellectual conundrums. I do not read it primarily as a moral or ethical textbook. I read the Bible as an instrument that has the capacity to open my heart to encounter a hidden presence that resides behind the words. In my experience, as I struggle with the sacred text of Scripture, I experience a power that transcends the routine experiences that make up my daily life.
Certainly, there remain vast incomprehensible mysteries. But the Bible provides enough hints of a way forward, that the journey of opening to faith continues to seem worth pursuing.