Talking about faith today has to begin with disclaimers. I don’t want to convert anyone. I don’t hate anyone. I believe that gay and trans people deserve equal rights within society and the opportunity to be accepted fully into (and married within) whatever church they wish to worship in. I believe women have the right to their bodies and deciding what to do with them. I believe the church is a beautiful and peaceful space for some, and connected to trauma and unease for others. I believe people are fulfilled by a variety of spiritual traditions and this can change through the course of someone’s life.
I am finding prayer to be a more and more important part of my life at the moment. I grew up within a Christian family, and in a vicarage for the first 10 years of my life. My relationship with my faith has changed, grown and remains a mystery. Still, I would call myself a Christian and practice within the Anglo Catholic tradition. All this is superfluous really! All I know is that I find myself drawn to listen to the silence more at the moment. I want to grow in my connection with the sense of oneness within me. To seek a communion with my body and the body of humanity. Prayer draws me into this and the psalms are becoming one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of the journey.
Part of prayer is noticing what touches you in scripture. This is entirely the same as having a favourite part of a piece of music, or favourite stanza of a poem. It might even be a coming together of an outfit or flavours that say ‘yes’ within you in a deep way. This ‘aha’ feeling occurs sometimes when I am praying the psalms and I find myself wanting to go back to the passage and read it over and over to figure it out within me.
So much of what hits me relates to my feelings of breakdown and mental health struggles of the past. The psalmists clearly suffered similar human tragedy and emotions to us, and I feel connected to them through this sort of ‘holy empathy’ that the psalms draw us close to. I love that there is no watering down of emotion in the psalms. Everything is spoken authentically and honestly to God. They often explain their anger towards God and ask the questions about suffering that we ask also. This is rather unlike what we might know of the contemporary church, steeped in evaded and diluted issues and stuck fast to dogma which endeavours to explain and confine the inexplicable.
There is so much to say about the edge of suffering that we are brought to in the psalms, but what struck me today was a passage in psalm 27 which read;
‘I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and they shall comfort your heart’.
So much about faith, or the feelings of oneness we want within our lives, involves waiting and trusting. This passage spoke to me because it says so much about suffering. We are very quick to look at the situations and instances in which it felt there was no ‘God’ or peace or unity. We are tempted to blanket our beliefs over God’s absence because we wish not to believe that we deserve to see the goodness in our lives, or struggle so much with the absence of certainty.
‘The land of the living’ speaks of the present. The land of the living is now. The psalm is talking about keeping faith, whilst waiting and believing that the goodness of the Lord (or the oneness with the world) is possible. Not only this, but the world in which the psalms were written was just as messy, dislocated and steeped in suffering as our current world is. They believed in seeing ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’, despite the inevitable pain of their lives. The world’s reality is harsh and suffering is terrifying and mysterious, but the world is not devoid of beauty and possibility for goodness.
This also reminded me of a prayer by John Henry Newman which reads, ‘it is not that you will Lord, but that you can and that seems to me sufficient reason to ask’. The goodness of the Lord and God’s ‘answer’ to our prayers is possible. It is not a given, and we cannot put a time pressure on the answers we want. This prayer makes me feel so connected to those who have prayed with faith throughout time and throughout different spiritual traditions. Their faith becomes my faith. Their trust is my trust. I hear of what their trust in the Lord did within the world, so I know it is possible. Even in the world I live now, I know holy and beautiful people with pure hearts, so I know the possibility of God’s goodness.
Waiting and listening to the absolute bare truths of our life (through meditation etc) brings forth beauty in ways we might not expect, even out of some very dark situations. It is worth ‘asking’, believing and waiting for the goodness of God, love, peace, unity because it is, if not entirely probable, extremely possible.