whim: an odd or capricious notion or desire; a sudden or freakish fancy

Sunday, March 17, 2013

thoughts on faith and the definition of it

I haven't posted in a few months, but I've had some thoughts buzzing around in my head lately, and if there's anything I've learned thus far in my master's program, it's to write down what's in my head. So here goes:

A week ago, I was in Boston attending the AWP Conference (creative writing/teaching), and I attended a panel entitled "I and Thou: The Dangers of the Self in Writing about Religion" that was quite enlightening in a few different ways. The first panelist, Jeremy Jones, spoke about the disconnect between the literal and the figurative in religious writing, that sometimes we rely too much on cliches and phrases we've heard over and over again, and that sometimes when we can't express something in fresh or new language, we've likely not thought about or internalized the concept sufficiently. Which is an interesting thought––how many times have we heard the words "charity," "faith," or "hope" and actually been able to express what those things are without relying on borrowed language? There's a difference between the thing (say, a dog) and what we call that thing (the word "dog"), and that what we call something is not the thing itself, but our representation of it. We have to understand concepts and things by naming them, but we need to spend time learning to express and relay those concepts as we understand them rather than relying solely on other people's definitions. Or something like that.

Also, he quoted Kenneth Burke's idea that there are four realms of words:

  1. Words for the natural (tree, flower, dog, mountain)
  2. Words for the socio-political (justice, government, monarchy)
  3. Words about words (grammar, etymology)
  4. Words about the supernatural/spiritual 
Kenneth Burke basically said that the fourth realm of words has to rely on words from other spheres for us to understand it. So when we hear a story or analogy (like President Uchtdorf's airplane metaphors), it helps us better understand the spiritual thing because we are borrowing language from the other realms. Or something like that. 

Anyway, with all of that, I wanted to say that I've been thinking a lot about faith lately. What exactly does it mean to have faith? How is faith different than trust? hope? I've been trying to articulate, for me, what faith means, and I've been trying to express it for myself instead of relying on someone else's words. It's easy to say, "faith is belief in something that you can't see," but what does that mean for me? What does it feel like? How can I explain it and my understanding of it without being cliche? If faith is the word we use to name the concept, what is the actual concept? 

Sometimes I feel like the father in Mark 9:24 begging Jesus to heal his son, and in response to Jesus' question, "do you have faith?" he says, "I believe" and follows that up with "help thou my unbelief." He was willing to recognize that his belief might not have been sufficient on its own, but that he needed Jesus' help to have faith. Maybe my quest to understand what faith is will  help me to have more faith. 

As a last thought, I've been thinking a bit about Peter, one of apostles who I think is a bit misunderstood. In Matthew 14, Jesus approaches the apostles' boat, walking on the water. When they realized who it was, Peter almost immediately jumps out of the boat, attempting to walk on the water to reach Jesus. This is the part that everyone focuses on: Peter starts concentrating more on the tumultuous water rather than focusing on Jesus, and he begins to sink; Jesus catches him and says, "Oh thou of little faith; wherefore didst thou doubt?" What strikes me most in this story, though, is not that Peter loses faith, but that he is the only one to jump out of the boat. Although his faith is not perfect, he is willing to try. He needs the Savior's help, just as the father did, but at least he was willing to try. So the willingness to try has something to do with faith. 

So many nuances––where to start?