For me and those spiritual leaders I most respect, faith, first and foremost, is awakening trustfully to all that is involved in being here.
When I follow through with this as thoroughly and consistently as I can, it becomes one kind of theism (faith in God). But it starts out pre-theistically, one might say. That is, faith is concerned first and foremost with how to be here trustfully. Further beliefs about God or anything else are of use only as they help me discern how to be here trustfully.
I began to discover this in childhood, growing up as a Southern Baptist, and I’m still discovering this today, growing old as an Episcopal priest. Then, as now, I could fully internalize what I heard about God only to the extent that what I heard helped me discern how to be here trustfully. The rest I simply shelved or discarded. This, I suspect, is what most Christians do, though often without noticing. (I know it’s what my parents did.) We should all pay more attention to this.
I am here trustfully because I find all that is involved in being here to be uncontainably meaningful and newly relational. My evidence for this is simply that this is how I continue to find being here to be. It’s enough evidence to trust that this is how being here ultimately is.
Being here is uncontainably meaningful: Note the emphasis on “uncontainably”—I don’t mean “meaningful” as part of some tidy scheme that puts everything in its place. That’s containable meaning. Uncontainable meaning subverts every cut-and-dried system of explanation (e.g., “it’s God’s will,” or “everything happens for a reason,” or “we’re just cosmic accidents”). I don’t ever want to ignore devastating experiences of senselessness. Natural disasters, human atrocities—even our own deep desire to find meaning no matter what—call every attempt at meaning-making into question. But I must confess that, when things seem meaningless, I keep unexpectedly discovering deeper meaning to being here that is not contained by how things seem immediately. And it’s not meaning I would have known how to desire; it’s desire-transforming. It shows up in my and others’ defiant refusals to let devastating, senseless moments define us. It doesn’t rescue me from naturally needing to grieve and rage against loss and suffering and senselessness. It’s an endless, sometimes devastating process. But it’s just as endlessly (“uncontainably”) worthwhile. Uncontainable meaning is “the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties.”—Peter Rollins, “A Conversation with Peter Rollins” in the back of The Idolatry of God (New York: Howard Books, 2012).
Being here is newly relational: As everything involved in being here seems to pass irrevocably, I awaken to the deeper meaning that everything involved in being here is newly relational. Everything passing enables new ways of relating to be here. What passes is past, yet it persists as a finished aspect of the novel relationality of being here. Novel relationality, itself uncontainably meaningful, gives continuing, uncontainable meaning to all that passes even in the face of death. (This is process thought in a nutshell.)
Because I continue to find all that is involved in being here to be uncontainably meaningful and newly relational, I am led by this finding to conclude that, ultimately, reality as such is likewise uncontainably meaningful and newly relational. This is the only God to whose reality I can trustfully awaken: the uncontainably meaningful and newly relational ultimate way of being here. This brand of theism, and only this brand, helps me discern how to be here trustfully. I’m not interested in any other brand of theism. The only “invisible friend” I have is the uncontainably meaningful, newly relational, ultimate way of being here.
As far as I can tell, this brand of theism cannot conflict with what we are learning about reality through the natural sciences. (What do I know about the natural sciences? I was a doctoral advisee of the internationally renowned philosopher of science, Stephen E. Toulmin.) The natural sciences largely confine themselves to observing, inferring and testing recurrent patterns in all that is involved in being here. True, some natural scientists like to engage in metaphysical speculation, sometimes unwittingly, but when they do that, they’re not really “doing science” anymore. But their fields’ methods do not in any way threaten trusting that being here is uncontainably meaningful and newly relational. Their pursuit is in fact a specialized expression of that trust. They too trust that there is always more sense than meets the eye to be made of what is happening. When gaps appear in their explanations, they don’t give up and ask some caricature of God to step in and take over—they trust instead (rightly!) that a more fundamental explanation is worth pursuing. This brand of theism supports that underlying, pre-scientific trust as it finds further support from it.
The ultimate, uncontainable and newly relational meaning of all that is involved in being here can be named, in St. Paul’s words, as the One from whom, through whom, and in whom all things are (Romans 11:36). Or to put it in words attributed to Moses’ experience, the ultimate, uncontainable and newly relational meaning of all that is involved in being here can be named as YHWH, the One Who Is and Will Be (Exodus 3:13-14).
Awakening to the ultimate, uncontainable and newly relational meaning of all that is involved in being here is what inspired the writers of the Bible (and the authors of other sacred writings in other traditions) to write their own halting, often conflicted articulations of what ultimately helped them discern how to be here trustfully. When I read them or hear them read, I pay attention, not to the limited and conflicted terms they used, but to what presumably awakened them in the first place—the ultimate, uncontainable and newly relational meaning of all that is involved in being here.
I am thus able to share a common life with those who came before me, without letting the limited and conflicted terms of their context (or my context) obscure the uncontainably meaningful and newly relational reality that draws us all onwards.
This is why my faith is Christian faith, as one immeasurably helpful form of awakening trustfully to all that is involved in being here. I am sharing common life with those Christians who came before me and those with me now as I sacramentally celebrate the uncontainable and newly relational meaning of the self-giving common life initiated and somehow still enlivened by that shamefully executed criminal, Jesus of Nazareth.
As I participate in this Christian form of uncontainable and newly relational meaning, its intensity actually opens me to embrace all other forms of participating in this meaning. I have no reason to feel threatened in any way by the fact that others participate intensely in other forms of uncontainable and newly relational meaning, although I would urge them likewise to follow through on this uncontainability and novel relationality to embrace other forms of participating besides their own.
All that is involved in being here is uncontainably meaningful and newly relational. This is what I celebrate as one sort of Christian theist, and this is what I invite all others to celebrate with me in whatever terms are available to them.