Spending a week with one’s parents as they age, helping with meals, running errands, and keeping up with family and friends, walking alone from home to Dad’s assisted living facility twice each day, and waking up on East Coast time, leaves plenty of time for reflection and contemplation, two of my favorite activities. Faith, what we believe and why we act. For my father, faith always came back to God, Jesus’ crucifixion, and eternal life. For my mother faith is about relationships. For me, faith is something that I have struggled with since my youth. I shied away from the sense of commitment that I viewed faith as needing. I could see too many sides of any issue to stand on this-or-that position.
But, ironically faith is a concept that I have not been able to evade. It constantly seems to come up. Maybe because of my lack of sense of faith, it has been ever-present in any book I open, play I view, music I listen too, conversation I have.
Even as a therapist, faith has become constant. Had a stroke? We will eventually have to talk about whether you believe that you can rebuild neuro-motor pathways in your brain, and/or adapt routines to what you body will do. Have achy hands, wrist, elbows, etc.? We will eventually have to talk about whether you believe that pain is something that you can change or live with, and how you can adapt your activities to reduce the body mechanics that stress joints and provoke swelling, etc. Have depression or anxiety? We will certainly be talking about what your life experiences have contributed to your beliefs about futility and hopelessness. Faith, faith, faith! Ahhhhhhh. And, me counseling folks with all my doubts.
Recently, a few client have asked point blank whether I believed that after 40 years of this or that life problem they could change. I probably said something tactfully supportive, but my thought was “I guess I would not have stayed with the job for 30 years if I did not believe that we have the capacity to grow, develop, change.” But is that faith, or being faithful to my clients and profession?
Hmmm. Faith, faithful are these similar of different concepts. Faith I have trouble with. Faithfulness is one of my strong points, or faults, depending on the situation. I’ve had a number of colleagues, friends, and neighbors who have said they would go into battle (this was from someone in the Army Reserves) physical or intellectual, if they knew that I had them covered. I think some who decided that I was their enemy (not my perspective) have envisioned me as a Jack Russel Terrier with a bone. Grrrrr. Faithful, viscous, and maybe a little deranged.
Some of my longer-term readers may have noticed that I have a thing for viewing, pondering, and writing about religious paintings. A few years back, I wrote of series of posts on frescoes about Paul’s ministry. While in the transient world of social media, some years ago may have seemed to have disappeared into he black-hole of information overload, I have continued to explore the life, history and culture of Paul. I made a number of statements, based on what I knew at the time, which I thought I really should verify. This process has lead me to a variety of scholarly books about Paul.
Would anyone characterized Paul as faithful, viscous, and maybe a little deranged. Okay, stop the grandiose identification thing, back to scholarly pursuits.
So I wake up on East Coast time, at my parents home, fill the first cup of coffee, and open up the current book that I am reading: N. T. Wright’s Paul, A Biography. About 148 pages in (284 to go), I come across these statements:
… the question Paul has to address is: How can you tell who are the true children of Abraham? And his answer is focused firmly on Jesus. St Paul’s point to Peter is simple. what matters if being part of the covenant family, and the covenant family is not defined by Jewish law, but “through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah”
Here again we meet the powerful and many-sided word “faithfulness,” pistis in Greek. As we have seen, that same Greek word can mean “faith” in the various senses and also “faithfulness,” “loyalty”, or “reliability.”
Thus, one root Greek word, pistis, can relate to each of these variations on a theme of faith. I may never have my father’s fervent faith in a particular theological positions. But I can certainly be faithful to pursuit of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. I may never have my mother’s faith in sustained relationships, but I can certainly be loyal to family, friends, and neighbors. Reliability? I could claim that you could set your clock by…. but you’d just say I was being obsessive. Let’s just say I’m not going to start talking to some cell phone add-on, mechanical voice to give me directions and answer questions.
Faithful, loyal, reliable. I like that. Next time someone asks me about faith, I just say, “Pistis? It’s Greek to me”.