Faith Set in Motion

La fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva. Faith set in motion is what saves us.

Most mornings I listen to two brief prayer meditations as I gather myself for the day: Pray As You Go, and its Spanish version Rezando Voy. Typically the words and music wash over me, but occasionally a phrase catches my attention and takes up residence inside.

That happened recently when I heard la fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva. It reminded me of what Jesus often said when people came to him for healing: your faith has made you well.

I’ve long resisted the notion that our faith is what saves or heals us. It places such pressure on us to have enough faith, or the right kind of faith. Such thinking can lead to spiritual lives of self-righteousness for some and perpetual inadequacy for others.

Yet the idea of faith set in motion suggests that faith is, in fact, a response to an encounter that God initiates. Something happens: we hear a call; our hearts are inspired or broken open; we feel a presence that is both as close as our breath and as elusive as the wind. We’ll never fully understand God’s movement towards us, and we can’t evoke Jesus’ presence on command. All we can do is respond to that which “strangely warms our hearts,” as John Wesley once described the presence of God.

This has become my working definition of faith: our response to those mysterious stirrings of grace that come to us. Amazing things can happen when we respond to those God moments with a faith set in motion, and they do. It doesn’t take much faith to begin a courageous journey. Faith the size of a mustard seed will do.

I’ve been presiding at a number of Confirmation services lately–a highlight of my job. At the heart of that service is what’s known as “the Baptismal Covenant.” It begins with three questions about belief–Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?–followed by five questions about how we will live as a result of our belief: Will you continue in Christian community? Will you acknowledge when you fail and ask forgiveness? Will you live with integrity, treat others with dignity, and strive for justice and peace?

As essential as our answers are to these questions, equally important are the ways they describe how God first shows up for us. Belief in this context means trust. Before we can believe, we must have some experience that allows us to trust in this mystery we call God.

Thus the questions, do you believe in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit? are asking if we’ve experienced enough of what our prayer book calls the mystery of faith to assure us that there is more to this life than meets the eye, and that the source of it all is love.
If the answer is no, where might we go to have such experiences? If the answer is yes, where might we go to have more?

The questions that follow describe the arenas in life in which we are most likely to experience the power and presence of God in Christ: in Christian community, at those times when we fail or fall short; in relationship with one another; and together working to create a just and peaceful world. Sometimes we simply need to start moving. Jesus promises to meet us on the road.

A colleague recently told of the time he decided to walk the entire 530 miles of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian pilgrimage route across northern Spain. He had been sorely wounded by the Church and was seeking some kind of healing and peace within himself. So he started walking, setting what little faith he had in motion. On the road he met people from all over the world who were on searches of their own, many who had been wounded, too, and uncertain about their futures.

One night around a campfire, his fellow pilgrims realized that he was a priest and began probing his faith. Tell us about Jesus, they asked. He took a deep breath and said, “This is what I know: Jesus chose to love without exception. And with his last breath he forgave those who were killing him.” He paused. “I want to learn to love like that. That’s why I follow Jesus.” He felt a healing rush come over him as he spoke, and his heart was healed. Faith set in motion had saved him.

Faith set in motion saves us as well. Long ago, I decided to put my trust in Jesus because of his love and forgiveness, and because of others whose faith inspired me. When my faith falters, which it does, I know that it’s time to go back to the people, places and practices that open my heart to receive. I know that it’s time to move. Sometimes the faith I put in motion isn’t much bigger than a mustard seed. But incredibly enough, Jesus meets me on the road, and my faith grows.

I want to learn to love as Jesus loves and to help create a world where such love is everyone’s birthright. When enough of us do that together, amazing things can happen, and they do. So keep walking, friends. Faith set in motion is what saves us.

As Advent approaches, this is the first of three reflections on the foundations of Christian life: faith, hope and love.