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…a faith of one…

January 12, 2012

There is a thought percolating in my brain this morning, a rumination on faith and the expression of faith that is bubbling up as I type. I may fumble it and I may repeat stuff I’ve said before, I apologize in advance.

I think that the best faith is the one lived fully…the one that is livable within the existence we are given. It is considered and thought through, it adapts to experience and knowledge. It corrects us and changes us, and with any luck makes us a better person.

It is, by this very nature, a faith of one. No two people will have the same identical faith, even if they share many of the same ideas and beliefs. Our faith should be serviceable, it should give us something even as we give ourselves to it.

It will, over time, heal us, change how we see the world, how we see other people, how we interact with one another. It will evolve.

I’m not going to go into the details of what I believe, because this isn’t about dogma, it isn’t about gods or hierarchy or rules. It isn’t about how the world came into existence or where we go when we die.

For me, a big part of my faith is compassion. I’m not saying that I live my life as compassionately as I’d like. I’m human. I get angry. I get selfish. I can be rude and distasteful. I can forget that the person I’m interacting with has a whole life that has nothing to do with me.

However, I feel that my faith calls me to remember that exact thing, that the person spewing a vile diatribe about something that I hold dear is a person with a life, with reasons for their anger, with problems I know nothing about…and that I, recognizing that, can afford them the space to experience their anger, express it…and with any luck, let it go.

I can, in that space offer words of commiseration, if not with their words, then with their emotion, validation that they are heard. I can offer my own opinion, held forth in words that are not intentionally hurtful, only different, and assurances that I in no way denigrate them for their words.

I believe that with emotions like anger, the only way out is through. Suppressing it doesn’t kill it. In fact it only strengthens it. When we hold it in, when we cradle it to us and hold it sacred, it burns deep and hot and we lash out whenever something touches the object of that anger.

I see this a lot these days in discussions of politics and religion. People holding their anger so close, so sacred, that they can not work through it, can not see past it. The source of that anger can be lost in time, inside issues they don’t even remember, memories lost…but the anger remains.

I was once like that. I harbored an anger that burned inside me and spurred angry, hateful words. But faith changed me, and offered me compassion, the simple idea that my feelings were valid, that I could speak them in a place free of judgment, that I could find my way out of the anger…and emerge out the other side a better person.

I won’t lie. It takes practice. It’s hard sometimes. Anger is a big emotion, and our initial reaction to someone else’s anger is often to get angry ourselves.

Start small. I started with online conversations. I worked to see the other person not just as words on a screen, but as a person, with feelings and a life. I asked questions to get to know them instead of just lashing back at their anger. I wished them a good day when I’d finished my response.

I discovered something amazing. They responded like human beings. The anger dissipated, and their words grew kinder. Soon we were having a conversation rather than screaming at one another. We still disagreed, but it was suddenly more civil. I even made friends.

So that is my challenge to you today. Compassion. Show it to someone today.

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