Overcoming ego-related barriers will allow this admirable triad to flourish
DAVID RICKEY — One of the most favorite New Testament passages used at weddings is First Corinthians 13, the passage about love. . .well faith, hope and charity/love, depending on which translation you use.
Given this popularity, do we really know what those terms mean, and more importantly, how many newlyweds (or even those married a long time) actually practice these highly touted qualities?
Faith is often misunderstood as “belief.” The Greek word “pistis” means conviction or belief but with the emphasis of trust, not so much in an idea as in a relationship. For “believers” this is a relationship with God, or Jesus.
But the relationship is an active one, not just believing that there is a God or that Jesus is somehow related to God. Faith is a moment to moment trusting in a particular understanding of how life works, that we live actively in relationship to god – “in whom we live and move and have our being”, to quote Paul of Tarsus.
Faith is, then, a fundamental trust that our personal life is grounded in, and nurtured and informed by a divine essence that is not only benevolent, but intentionally active at every moment. Therefore, faith itself is active.
It is our personal activity of aligning ourself, moment to moment with this guiding, sustaining energy. It is the ongoing seeking of conscious awareness of that energy, seeking both to know it (being tuned into it) and to be affected by it (having our will informed and shaped by it). To have the quality of “faith” is to take every step, make every choice, think every thought, in relationship to this “ground of our being”, to paraphrase Paul (of) Tillich.
Hope is also misunderstood. Biblically, it is often used to mean, “I hope I’ll get to heaven”, or receive some other reward. I live in hope. I prefer Vaclav Haval’s description:
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Hope comes from trust. By living in awareness and relationship to this intentional energy, we live in a certainty of “meaning”, even when we can’t see it.
If faith grounds us, hope moves us forward. Hope provides the confidence (with “fidens” – faith) to take the next step on our journey. We don’t have assurance about the outcome, or even the direction. Rather we have a certainty that “something” is going on behind the scenes, that we can’t or don’t know, but that is benevolent and trustable, and that will lead us somewhere that is meaningful.
Someone said “I know not what the future holds but I know who holds the future.” I am not quite that confident, or deterministic. Rather, I believe that the relationship is more dynamic, organic, growing as I move forward. I don’t believe I am walking (or trying to walk) on a predetermined path. Instead I believe I co-create that path in partnership with a deeper wisdom. And I believe that it will make sense as I go and as I then look back. I see meaning with hindsight, but that gives me the confidence to keep going.
Charity comes out of both “faith” and “hope.” I believe that we humans are naturally loving and charitable. The reality is that it is fear and anxiety, two unnatural states of the ego-mind, that block this natural predisposition to charity.
It is the fear of “what will happen to me?” that blocks my insensitive to “what is happening to you.” Frequently, acts of heroism happen in situations where there is not time to contemplate “what about me?” When I see someone in distress or need my first response is an impulse to help.
But if there is time (and it only takes a split second) for my ego to kick in with the personal safety question, then I withdraw. Living in faith, with hope, reprograms the synapses of my brain to bypass, or block this split-second pause. Then the natural response of charity proceeds unabated.
So faith, hope and charity are qualities that are progressive, each to the next. But they are qualities that require work. They are gifts in a certain sense. They are also “givens” in a certain sense. I believe we all possess these qualities, but that all of us, to one degree or another, experience barriers, blocks, inhibitions of these natural, innate qualities. The work is to become aware of the barriers, then actively, slowly, bring them down by a conscious act of the will. I think we can become aware of the impulse to trust, to hope and to be charitable — that immediate response to a situation. We can also then become aware of the almost immediate inhibition.
Practicing these two levels of awareness allows us to become aware of the slight gap between the two and then consciously work to expand the gap and then insert a deeper will in that gap that chooses to contradict the inhibition. At first this will be difficult. We will need to “act as if” a situation is trustable, hopeful or worthy of charity even when our egos say otherwise. With increased practice we can actually retrain our brain to skip the inhibition and go directly from impulse to action.
This is difficult, but not beyond our ability. Remember, we live and move and have our being, deeply in the midst of this amazing mystery called Grace, or divine presence or God. The very nature of our being is working with us to accomplish this.
David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.
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