Beginning Again

2015After a year’s worth of posts, it’s time to begin again. In last week’s Homeless Kodo study group, the subject of faith arose with its accompanying semantic difficulties, like what is it, anyway? One person testified that because of his religious upbringing, he initially equated faith with blind acceptance, often of things that make no sense. This is a depressing definition, I think.

For me faith is closer to trust, a sense that things will work out as they can over time. A zen teacher once said, “I trust people. Not necessarily to be what I want them to, but to be themselves.” This is faith in the real…that people and things will be themselves because in the end, that’s what they know how to do.

Faith is allied not only with trust but with innocence, because only people who trust can afford to let go of their assumptions and approach life freshly in each moment. Alan Watts wrote, “Belief is holding tight to something; faith is letting go.”

Faith isn’t optimism — it’s being at peace with never knowing how things will turn out. In the eighties classic Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler’s high school guidance counselor chides him for not knowing what he wants to do with his life, while his classmates have their futures sorted out. He offers a joking yet incisive retort: “They all think they know what they’re going to do. I know that I don’t know, which puts me ahead.”

It puts him ahead in only one way, but that way is important: he’s living in the reality of not knowing, while his classmates are living in an idea of the future. It’s great to have dreams and goals and to work toward them. But it’s a delusion to think we know. Delusions tend to make our lives easier and more comfortable, whether they’re positive or negative. They reduce infinite possibility to something limited enough for us to navigate — the world as it’s already understood by us. This is a kind of karma: the pressure on things to happen the same ways so that we can feel at home, whether or not we’re happy there.

To my mind it takes tremendous courage to live the reality of not knowing with anything resembling grace. When I see that quality, I call it faith. It can’t be mistaken for indifference or aimlessness; it’s an unmistakable steadiness of heart.