I just finished reading a marvelous book, Dancing with Sherman. Sherman is a donkey. Ostensibly, the book is about donkey-racing with their human partners in the Amish-Mennonite country of Pennsylvania. Sherman is a real winner. In actuality, the book is about trust, the interdependence of trust woven into the whole of creation. The author, Christopher McDougall, writes that “donkeys operate on one frequency – trust. They do nothing on faith, but everything on certainty.”[i] Donkeys operate on trust, not faith. We have the capacity for both, for both trust and faith.
Trust and faith are related. They’re like cousins. Faith operates with the eyes of our heart.[ii] We read in The Letter to the Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[iii] Faith… the conviction of things not seen. Faith in God is a gift from God, though it’s not based on evidence. Faith is a kind of inner knowing. Which is why so many people – even in the face of tremendous fear or overwhelming suffering, even now – have not lost their faith in God. Many people’s faith in God is awakened in suffering, which is such a paradox. In our opening prayer,the Collect for today, we ask God to “open the eyes of our faith” to behold God. The eyes of our faith is a kind of inner seeing, which can even be contrary to the evidence we actually see. Saint Paul says “we walk by faith, not by sight.”[iv]It was Saint Anselm of Canterbury who, in the 11th century, described the preeminence of faith as coming from the heart, not the mind: “faith seeking understanding,” he said.[v]
Trust, on the other hand, is based on the mind and the memory. Trust comes from evidence that can be seen, experienced, understood, and remembered. Someone has said that “trust is the core conviction of judgment based on knowledge, instinct, and experience.” That’s trust. You know what you can trust, and who, and why. Donkeys operate on trust; humans have the capacity for both: for both trust and faith.
Faith comes from the future, God ahead of us. Jesus says, “come, follow me,” and Jesus goes on ahead, inviting us to follow, assuring us of his presence, his provision, his power, his eternal place he is preparing for us. Faith comes to us from the future, the future of God. Trust comes to us from the past: from what we have seen, and known, remembered, and can recognize again. Faith is about how we are oriented in life, our often not being able to see clearly ahead. Faith is a noun; faith is a belief. Trust is a verb; trust is an action. Trust is how we act, drawing on past experience to inform what we do in the present.
I don’t think it’s ours to decide. I don’t think we wake up in the morning and decide whether we will be faithful or whether we will be trusting in God. “Today I’m going to trust God.” “Today I’m going to be faithful to God.” I don’t think so. I don’t think it works that way. Faith in God, trusting in God, are gifts, God’s gifts, at God’s initiative.
Every day we will be reminded that life is too much for us to navigate alone, that we are powerless or at least not powerful enough to navigate the day alone. And God will greet us with a reminder from our past, to give us the clarity of trust we need for now. Or God will greet us with a visitation from the future, the paradoxical gift of faith. Whatever. But that will make all the difference. “Faith” and “trust” are words for our benefit. It’s all the same to God, who is as much present in the now, as God is in our past, as God is in our future. It’s all present, it’s all presence to God. Jesus assures us, “I am with you always”: past, present, future.[vi]
i] Dancing with Sherman; the donkey with the heart of a hero, by Christopher McDougall; p. 109.
[ii] “The eyes of our heart,” a phrase from Ephesians 1:18.
[iii] Hebrews 11:1.
[iv] 2 Corinthians 5:7.
[v] Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109), a monk, theologian, and sometime Archbishop of Canterbury.
[vi] Matthew 28:20.
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