Play it Right?

Every Wednesday, I’m going to post a song I’m listening to along with some thoughts on faith and links. Sometimes the song and the reflection will connect and sometimes it will just be something I think you’ll enjoy listening to while reading. – Jeremiah

This past weekend at St. Lydia’s we read John 20:19-30. In it, Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, but Thomas is out. We hear Thomas’ familiar reply, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Of course, we all know what happens next.

Many of us who are intimately familiar with doubt find some kinship with Thomas and his inability to believe. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” says Jesus. I haven’t seen, and I often find it pretty difficult to believe.

I recently came across an article via Episcopal Café by John Falcouner, which was a helpful reminder that there’s more to faith then belief. He writes:

Religion is about living in the world in a certain way, seeing it differently, experiencing it differently. It entails beliefs, but it is a matter of beliefs, ways of acting, communal expectations, covenants, rites, and so on fitting together into a context that forms the background of an entire life (a “form of life” Wittgenstein calls it—Philosophical Investigations, section 19). No one of these is fundamental to the others. Religious beliefs, practices, and acts each have meaning against the background of and within the web they form. Together they are the meaning-context for religious life. Beliefs, theological or otherwise, don’t have a special, more fundamental place in their relationship with the other parts of religious life and experience. They are part of a whole, and to be a religious person is to live within that whole.

Beliefs have assumed an inordinately prominent place in America. You cannot be a Christian without right belief, seems to be the mindset in much of Evangelical Christianity. From Episcopalians, I more often hear something along the lines of, “We shouldn’t act before getting our theology in place,” an idea that often makes me want to roll my eyes.

Yes, developing a coherent theology is important (somewhat, and for some people, anyway), but I think it rarely precedes action. That’s just not how human beings work. It’s part of a whole “form of life,” which is messy and often all out of order.

Christian Wiman gets at this a bit, in this excerpt from his poem, One Time.

But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man.

We, people of faith, theologians, are really closer to poets than scientists anyway, scrambling for the right words to express what’s going on just beyond our understanding, hoping that when the moment comes, we’ll see God standing before us.

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