Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol God, all you peoples.
For great is God’s love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord
Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 117, NIV)
I recently heard about a survey revealing that over 90% of people in Australia pray. This is an extraordinary finding as I have seen the results of other surveys that suggest that around 30% of Australians consider themselves atheists. So, this would lead us to presume that even people who do not believe in a deity at all, sometimes call out to the God/dess that ‘does not exist’. Such inconsistency is part of our glorious, intricate humanity!
The visionary book of Revelation, contained in the Greek sacred text (found as the last book in the Bible), states,
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:8)
This piece of sacred writing is set in the dwelling place of God (heaven, if you like) and the Lamb is referring to Christ. The four living creatures are described earlier in the vision, ‘The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle’ (Rev 4:7). And, the elders are seated on thrones, wearing white, and have crowns of gold on their heads. When the four living creatures worship God, the elders get off their thrones, lay down their crowns and fall down in worship of God, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being’ (Rev 4:11).
So, back to our discussion on prayer. Our prayers (probably regardless of whether we think we believe in God/dess or not), are of great significance to ‘the one who sits upon the throne’ and ‘the Lamb’. They are like sweet-smelling incense. They are worthy to be brought into the presence of ‘the one who created all things’. They are worthy of His/Her attention. They are precious to the heart of God/dess. They are extravagant (and sometimes, desperate) offerings of hope and faith. Our prayers are carried into the ‘holy-of-holies’ by the ‘elders’ and are contained in vessels of gold which speak of the honour in which they are held. And, of the honour in which they are received. Yes, even the desperate cries for mercy that come from the lips of ‘sinners’ and ‘atheists’!
That describes how our prayers are received; with honour, gratitude and sacredness. But, how are our prayers given?
Most commonly, I pray by waiting or weeping. I ask myself the question, ‘Could you not tarry one hour?’ When Jesus was in distress in the Garden of Gethsemane and asked his friends to ‘stay here and keep watch with me’, they fell asleep. Christ saw that they were asleep and said to them ‘could you not watch with me one hour?’ So, for me, setting aside time (sometimes an hour, sometimes less, sometimes more) to simply sit and wait and watch for a person, or a situation, is how I pray. I acknowledge the presence of Loving Creator as I watch/wait and feel (or focus on) the companionship of Christ intimately during these times. Sometimes my mind wanders. That’s OK. I have simply committed to being still and waiting on God/dess as a prayer. It is an expression of my faith and trust that the Divine One is compassionate, merciful, kind, just, attentive and loving towards each one of us.
Weeping is my other common style of prayer. It is natural for me to acknowledge grief and disappointment and frustration and anger by using tears. I pray for myself, others and the world this way, almost daily.
There are many ways to pray. Here is just a small list of verbs that describe the way prayer may manifest within us: weep, wait, cry out, walk, kneel, sing, speak, remain silent, march, prostrate, dance, kneel, fast, feast, write, play music, create, speak in different languages, mime, give financially, rest, listen, read poetry/psalms, read sacred texts, laugh, etc etc.
Remember, whoever you are and however you choose to pray, your requests are received with deep reverence by Creator who is clothed in compassion. Amen.
I was discussing faith issues with some friends and we were trying to work out what people were looking for in their spiritual journey. Our conclusion was that there were those who were looking for an experience of the Divine and those who were needing hope to get them through life’s journey. I am sure there are other motivations and desires but these were the two that we arrived at during our brief discussion.
In some ways the two are similar, as our experiences of the Divine, such as thin places, moments of intuition, the still small voice within etc. remind us that we live in a universe that is so much richer than our five senses can detect. And even that we are not alone. And this can give rise to hope. Hope that our circumstances can improve, hope that what we do here on Earth can have a fuller, richer meaning, hope that there is an ultimate purpose to existence.
What do you think people are looking for? Are they just answering a primeval urge to seek the Divine or are they wanting to receive something back as well?
I hope that you get to experience the Divine in some way this week.
The word “faith” creates many impressions in my mind. From the faith to heal the sick to the faith to move mountains, the common associations come with doing things or seeing them get done. Then there is the faith that is linked to believing things that we cannot prove.
For me, though, the strongest connection to the word “faith” is with trust. Trust that the circumstances I find myself in will turn out alright, or trust that someone else has ultimate control over the universe. This is the kind of faith that I think about the most frequently.
So that then leads to questions about what does trust look like? Can trust sometimes look like inactivity? When is it time to trust and when is it time to take action yourself?
For me I think I know when I have faith at a particular time when I can go to bed at night and leave my concerns behind, or when I can get up in the morning without being preoccupied with the concerns of the future.
And that only comes about when I remember that the Divine One loves me and cares about me.
I hope that you can find comfort in that.
‘Faith gets excited about change, rather than resisting it’.
You know you are hanging around with some seriously amazing people when, over coffee, a friend says something as profound as this in the course of everyday life. Thank you Cheryl; you are a genius.
This quotable comment is transparent in its meaning, full of wisdom and easily understood.
Let’s take a look at a frequently used comment about faith: ‘Faith is a crutch’. Now, this statement is usually not intended as a compliment, and often insinuates weakness. It is commonly framed in judgements like: ‘She uses faith as a crutch’ or ‘He needs his faith to get through life’.
Well, good on them! She, who knows how to lean on faith when she feels injured or rejected, and He, who knows that life is hard enough without doing it all alone. Both He and She are willing to draw on the strength and faithfulness of a Divine being. Maybe they have come to know through previous experiences that this God/dess is real and active and caring, and, that this Deity can be relied upon in hard times as well as good times. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they’re onto something!?
There is a beautiful old hymn that I use to love as a child entitled, ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’. I can’t remember all of the words but I can remember these lyrics from the chorus: ‘We have an anchor that keeps our soul, Steadfast and sure while the billows roll, Fastened to a rock that cannot move, Grounded sure and deep in the Saviour’s Love’ (or something like that).
Call it a crutch, call it an anchor, call it a necessity, call it a strength, call it a weakness. By any other name, it is faith. And I think it is beautiful and truthful.
While we are on the topic of faith, I would also like to propose a statement of my own that you may quote if you consider it worthy of such esteem: ‘Faith is sometimes the only reasonable option’. This comment speaks against the dualistic understanding of the relationship between faith and reason. Our regular readers will be aware that many of our blog posts are concerned with the Science/Spirituality conversation and that we like to play in the ‘middle ground’ of this interaction of synergy. We are well aware that faith and reason can, and should, be used in the same sentence as often as possible.
So, it is with this freedom that I dance the dances of faith and I sing the songs of faith. And, I laugh often because I know that I also hold the crutch of faith for times of injury or weakness. And I know the anchor of faith holds me safe and secure in the rough waters of life.
I would like to finish with a question. Is it reasonable (wise, healthy, intelligent) to reject the gift of faith when it is offered to us? Who knows what that small seed of faith will produce.
What is faith? Can we have too little faith? Can we have too much faith? Do we have enough faith? What, or who, should we put our faith in? If we have faith in a Divine being, what is S/He like? Is faith quantitative or qualitative? What does faith achieve? Where do you find faith? How do you get it? Is it worth searching for? Or will it arrive as a gift? Is it something we do? Or something we choose to receive/reject? What does faith look/smell/taste/sound/feel like?
I will not attempt to answer these questions. I guess I believe that anyone who asks such questions probably already has faith. So, instead, I will walk you through what I think I know about faith:
So, please, don’t make faith harder than it is, and don’t judge another person’s style of faith and don’t belittle your own attempt at faith. All (and any) faith delights our loving, faithful Creator. Christians believe that when Christ returns, one of the big questions will be, ‘Is there faith on earth?’
I hope the answer is ‘Yes!’
If you would like to read more about faith, I suggest reading this blog post: Faith so Simple
It seems in the science/faith or science/spirituality discussion there are plenty of people who can talk knowledgably about one of the two extremes: science or faith, but not so many who want to discuss that ground in the middle. We listened to a talk by a leading Christian geneticist who really knew his stuff about the history of evolution as recorded in our genes. He was also pretty good at standard Christian doctrine, clearly having read his Bible well, no doubt along with numerous commentaries and associated texts. The interesting part of the talk was when everyone in the audience landed their questions right in the middle of these two fields. It was clear that our speaker felt less comfortable there, but in a room full of experts in either of the two fields of science and theology, so did everyone else.
So who is trying to help us map out this middle ground? Who is brave enough to spend their time on the fringes? Is it a dangerous place to be, a mere slip and slide into heresy or is it the new frontier, with scores of interested souls waiting to be engaged?
We recently had the opportunity to give some science talks to an audience not trained in either science or faith. The talks were predominantly about science but they also covered where science borders philosophy by looking at the limits of what we know. It was a fascinating experience and one where the audience showed through their questions that they did not fully accept the standard line coming out of the two extremes. It has encouraged us to continue our search for a broad discussion in the middle ground between science and spirituality. Sometimes this may put us at odds with those who hold fast to mainstream science or mainstream religion, but there are lots of souls out there searching for answers and I don’t think it is a good idea to just sit in our bunkers.
What we did learn from delivering our talks was that the questions were genuine and heartfelt, and the questioners sincere in their enquiry. And I don’t think we had to trade any of our hard-won beliefs, we just had to listen and to learn from each other.
I was thinking about this again today…
We were recently on a car rally where we were sent around some beautiful countryside, navigating with the aid of a tulip diagram. These are simple schematic images of how an upcoming intersection will appear. Of course, the 3-dimensional reality is spectacularly different from this simple line drawing and so there is a challenge in first recognising the intersection and second navigating through it.
People sometimes talk about “being at the cross-roads” as if they have magically arrived at some moment in their life where they are faced with a clear cut decision. A decision that is a significant change or where they can choose to keep going along the current path. I think that life is seldom like that. Decision points can build gradually, or they can sneak up on you, or they can arrive suddenly and demand an immediate response.
Perhaps the most “cross-roads” like moments are when you are…
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One of the main “benefits” of a faith journey has been those moments in my life when I have been able to trust my life and circumstances to the Divine. In such moments I have found simplicity; all has seemed right with the world and my current problems have been just a ripple on a deep pond – not unimportant but somehow part of a grander scheme. Those moments have felt like that pause between a deep breath and a sigh.
Different faiths encourage their believers to handle problems in different ways. I gather that followers of Islam learn to accept whatever life throws at them as fate. Buddhists are taught to make good decisions so that they will have peace of mind. Christians are taught to have faith in God – but is that a job to do or is it a state of mind?
Our conscious minds are busy most of the time. There are jobs to do, relationships to navigate and conundrums to ponder. At times, our unconscious mind adds to the problem when it throws ideas on the table through our dreams. How do we learn to find peace amidst the clamour?
I was re-reading something we wrote many months ago where we encouraged our readers as they started out on the road of spirituality. In it we encouraged simplicity – a simple prayer, setting aside small moments, adopting a watchful presence. I think that is my desire for the coming weeks. Simplicity in my trust.
I hope you find rest and succour along your journey.
Tim and I are both trained in the discipline of science; Tim in physics and myself in biology. Between us, we have over fifty years of work experience in applied physics, cancer and human health biology, computer science, and agricultural research. We have both also been involved in practicing spirituality in faith communities all of our lives (a combined total of over one hundred years). Contrary to popular opinion, science and spirituality have never created dualistic conflict in our lives and, only on a small number of occasions, have issues of scientific fact and faith produced creative tension in our worlds. Predominantly, our dedication to science and spirituality has yielded an enormous amount of synergy between these two disciplines resulting in a greater understanding of each discipline through the other.
Over the coming weeks, we shall share with you in more detail how this synergy works; the specific ways science and spirituality support and inform each other giving us a greater understanding of the universe, the earth, human purpose, the possibility of a Divine being, and other important components of reality. We hope you enjoy this series of blogs and, please, feel free to comment so that we can explore these interesting ideas together.
L’chayim (to life!)