Faith, it’s a difficult word. To a certain extent conceptual words like love and honor are all difficult to define. The more you strive to pin a certain definition on, the more the word seems not to fit. Still, when love comes up in a movie or a conversation, most of us have a pretty good idea of the sentiment under consideration. Faith is even harder to pin down. I know people who have been raised a certain “faith” but now are confirmed atheists. Others have “faith” in their friends. Are these the same words? What about the once common, but now almost taboo question “do you believe in God?” To many people this is a basic issue of faith: to believe or not to believe. Many atheists and theists alike would define faith as “the belief in something despite a lack of scientific evidence.”
This is a particularly interesting definition, partly because it is so far removed from what the word originally meant. According to religious scholars, faith originally was not related to belief at all, but simply was the set of principles according to which a person lived their lives. Under that definition many atheists are of intense faith, because they adhere to their principles with an almost unmatched zealousness. On the other hand, many “believers” could be said to have very little faith, because despite claiming a steadfast belief in God, they go on living according to principles only very distantly related to what their religion teaches.
I fall squarely into this second category. I have always nominally been Christian, something I proclaimed with louder or softer voice at different times in my life. I would adhere to the superficial principles of my religion with a varying degree of strictness and stand by as others measured my faith and their own by church attendance and the avoidance of drugs, sex and alcohol. This seemed normal enough until I reread some passages from the Bible and realized those issues were hardly mentioned. Rather, what was asked for was a degree of faith that few people are ready to face.
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve read this passage that comes from the oft quotes Sermon on the Mount. It always struck me as beautiful and comforting, but I gave it little deep consideration. In our modern world who isn’t worried about work? Surely, we have to consider our careers, retirement and whole slew of other concerns, don’t we? Surely such a passage shouldn’t be taken too literally?
Recently, as I traveled across France, I had the opportunity to visit several monasteries. At one of them I met a man who I thought was a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago on account of a symbolic shell he wore. “Are you doing the pilgrimage to Santiago?” I asked.
“No, Jerusalem.” he responded, as he unfolded a book full of stamps that documented the thousands of places he had visited along his journey.
I was shocked. Had he really walked to Jerusalem? He had. He had walked from Germany up through Poland and down to Jerusalem, then he had circled back and was now on his was to Spain. It had taken years, and he intended to go for years more. I was impressed, but not nearly as impressed as when he revealed something else. He did it without money. That’s right, three years ago he walked to the border of Germany and Poland, and after pausing for three days, he took a leap of faith, in every sense. He left behind his job, his country and his friends and walked into a foreign country with nothing but the faith that it would be alright, faith that he was doing something valuable with his life and faith that the principles he claimed to believe in were more than just pretty words. He told me that in his years of travels, he has never suffered from deprivation or hardship.
Although it pales in comparison, I too am attempting to have faith. I left a career that many people would be kill to have only to travel the world with little to no money. I am trying to finish a race that I really shouldn’t even be entering given that I have no athletic talent and have never entered a race of any sort in my adult life. Where will this all lead me? I don’t know, but I have faith that life is more than food and clothing and that more is what I’m looking for.