Faith is Part of What We Are
Spirituality requires us to have faith in faith. This faith-in-faith is well-founded because without faith we could do almost nothing and we would certainly be a great deal the less. We have to have faith in faith. On the other hand, this should not lead us to think that faith never leads us astray. It often does. Faith is so much part and parcel of what we are that faith is implicated in everything that we do, good and bad. When we steal it is because we have a faith that we gain something thereby. When we fight it is because we have faith that destroying the enemy will make the world a better place. When we look more deeply in a spiritual sense we might realise that stealing and fighting were a mistake and our faith may become better educated. When we are generous we might rationally think that we lose something thereby, but as our spirituality deepens we have faith that the opposite is actually the case.
It Is the Prayer that Counts
Here we are beginning to tease out what spirituality means. We say that in a gift it is the thought that counts. Every gift is accompanied by a prayer and it is the prayer that matters. What we mean is that it is the spirit that is the gift, not the material object. The generosity and affection is the gift. The box of chocolates is a token. The generosity and affection is love, spirit and prayer. The box of chocolates, in itself, is of trivial importance by comparison. Yet it too is a prayer – it is a way of saying. By means of this material object one says, “I pray that you be happy”. However, the same box might have been given as a bribe or even, in some circumstances, as a gesture of contempt if one knew that the occasion really demanded something more specific or lavish. The spirit in which the gift is given is what actually affects the receiver and the other people involved. Spirit matters a great deal more than the material tokens in which it is expressed. In the same way, in a formal prayer, it is not the words used, but the intention in the heart that they express that is the essence of the prayer. Only the one who can see into hearts sees whether our prayer is real or not.
Faith is the Ground of Morale
The fact that we are oriented to the spirit in this way is our everyday faith. This spirit is the everyday aspect of Spirit. We go to work because, in some degree, we have faith in it. If we are treated unfairly at work our faith is undermined. All the relations that we have with colleagues are modulations on the scale of faith. When our faith is high we feel good, committed, enthusiastic and proud. When our faith is low we feel lethargic, resentful, and resistant and our heads are full of cynical thoughts, blame and misery.
Faith is not just everyday, however. There is also a great faith that encompasses our whole life. This is our sense of the meaningfulness of our existence: of ourselves in our world. Such great faith also requires tokens in order to be sustained and actualised over time through all the vicissitudes of fate and fortune that we must sail through. By great faith I mean the kind of faith that is associated with religious commitment and our deepest convictions. It is great faith that gives a person the courage to order their whole life in the service of an ideal and even to give their life in a great cause. Great faith amplifies life. It is the way to make life into the most that it can be. Anything powerful can be abused and many people have become frightened of great faith because they have learnt about instances of it being abused, but to reject it on such grounds is a huge mistake. The use of the right arm has been implicated in almost every atrocity in history, but that should not lead one to cut it off.
Nobody Has the Final Word
The biggest challenge for humankind today is to realise that, despite our many differences, true faith has an overarching nature. None of us sees it clearly and I do not claim to have the final word or anything approaching; no human ever will have on this subject. We should not think of spirituality as a closed or finished book. There are religions of the book, but even if you use one particular book as a favoured source and think that the divine speaks most strongly there, it would be unwise to assume that therefore the Lord has nothing further in mind. We can understand spirituality as a field that is ever unfolding and revealing itself or, to put the same thing the other way about, we can understand that we are evolving into the possibility of an ever deepening appreciation of what it is about.
Something to Celebrate
Spirituality and faith are essential elements of human make-up. They are not exclusive property of any one human institution. Attempts to get a monopoly on the distribution of sacred wisdom are a form of spiritual materialism or spiritual nationalism and as such are an abuse. There can be no monopoly or cartel over the Holy for it transcends all such attempts. They are merely selling water by the river. Anyone can bring his own bucket. This does not, however, mean that these great traditions have nothing to offer – they have a great deal. All human institutions are human and so faulty, but they are not useless. They are not themselves the Sacred, but they celebrate the Sacred. Let us celebrate It in a thousand ways and not lose sight of the fact that we are merely human and the Light is much greater than we are.