What does it mean to believe? Belief is not something we think, but something we do: it’s the ways we experience God’s presence in our life; it’s the ways we engage with the scriptures and other sacred stories; it’s even the ways we question our faith.
We invite you to plunge deeper into your own assumptions about what it means to believe. Use these questions to spur your reflection & prayer, or in conversation with others.
- What other words are synonymous with “belief” for you?
- Who has inspired belief in your life? What did they do or say that inspired you?
- What actions engage or express your beliefs? How do you feel you are embodying belief?
We see in biblical stories that belief can look a lot like wrestling – as in the Genesis story of Jacob and the angel.
- How might you practice the presence of God in times of pain, suffering, questioning, boredom, sadness, anger, uncertainty . . . as well as joy, excitement, passion?
- Do you experience God in your body, or at certain times and places? What does it feel like to have an embodied experience of belief?
Sometimes belief means leaning into mystery – that which we cannot know.
- How comfortable are you with mystery?
- How does the presence of mystery deepen or challenge your journey of belief?
- Read Luke 24:13-35. Is this story true for you? What does it mean for this story to be “true” or not?
- Our founder Richard Meux Benson said: “They [the Magi] had come to Him who was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. None can come to Christ at Bethlehem and go away as they came.” How has your belief in Jesus placed you on a new route in your life and faith journey?
If the notion of a “spiritual practice” claims your attention, something meaningful is going on within you in your relationship to God. Something has awakened in you a desire to give some of your much-in-demand energy to the life of your spirit. This is wonderful.
And yet, is it necessary? In your rhythm of life, if you find yourself struggling to focus sufficient time, on a daily or regular basis, on your relationships with family and friends, a good diet, adequate rest, physical exercise, stimulation of your mind, enjoyment of a hobby and pastime, a volunteer activity … and a “spiritual practice,” then you may have inadvertently put your relationship with God in a box. If you find yourself “making time for God” in the schedule of your day or week, your practice might be impoverished. It’s not that you need to give more time to your spiritual practice; but rather that you might need to broaden your sense of what a “spiritual practice” is. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read, “In [God] we live and move and have our being” – all of the time. There is no “spirituality” demarcation.
“Questioning the faith,” this article’s title, holds within it two possibly contradictory meanings. Consider the paradox implied in the word “questioning”: does it mean questioning in the faith or a questioning of the faith – or both?
And furthermore what do we mean by “the faith”? Is the faith a collection of beliefs and doctrines, the teachings of an organized religion? Or is the faith something more: a series of practices, a tradition, a way of living? When Jesus asked the question, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus sought to draw both a confession and an act of faith from his disciples, based on his teaching and example. How does Christ now prepare us to respond to such a question? How are we called to engage with the faith that has been handed down to us, especially when our own experience might be as riddled with questions as with certainties?
“It’s hard not to look at the ground as you walk, to set your sights low and keep the world spinning, and try to stay grounded wherever you are.” So John Koenig, author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, defines his neologism astrophe: the feeling of being stuck on Earth. “But every so often you remember to look up and imagine the possibilities, dreaming of what’s out there.”
What an amazing paradox: being grounded in a specific time and place and yet being able to look up and stare across time and space into the abyss of infinity. Pondering this, it dawns on me anew how mysterious life is. Even though we live in the age of information, where science is at the helm driving us to truth, the more intelligible life becomes, the more it seems to mystify me.
“…Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad. Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:56, 58
With these words, recounted in John’s gospel, Jesus startles the crowd with whom he speaks by claiming the status of divinity. He speaks of himself as an eternal being, not bound by the constraints of mortal time. He similarly speaks of himself as the fulfillment of the long-awaited hope of the people of Israel, going all the way back to their forefather Abraham.
Understanding the relationship between the New Testament and the Old can be very challenging. It has been a challenge for Christians from the first centuries of the Church; deep misunderstandings gave rise to some of the tropes of various historical heresies, which often still impact our thinking about God and scripture today.
But the whole of scripture is a gift from God. Though it can be daunting and challenging, engaging with the Old Testament as a wellspring of prayer can illumine truths about God, the Church, and ourselves, in ways we may never expect. This article will explore several ways that readers today might draw from the Old Testament treasures both old and new.
The sensorium of the Monastery Chapel on Memorial Drive can be overwhelming. The smell, the silence, and the interplay of light and darkness confront the senses the moment the door opens. They immediately tell my body to stop, to slow down, to absorb, and to sink in. Stepping into a place where the walls are steeped in incense and immersed in generations of prayers prayed and psalms chanted, I find the constant demands of life shifted into a new perspective. Belief seems to come more easily in this space. God’s presence seems more tangible surrounded by the wood, stone, and light. For almost twenty years, SSJE has been a place of retreat and friendship for me. Even after I moved across the Pond more than a decade ago, SSJE still feels like home to me. It has held me in great joy and deepest sorrow. It’s a place where God has been both present and silent, where discernment has seemed both easy and impossible, and where I feel known and loved for who I am. The sensorium of the Monastery embodies all of these things and more. It is a place I can trust, a sacred space in which the world stands still.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Earlier this summer, the Reverend Sarah Coakley led our annual community retreat on the subject of risk. Using earlier members of the Society – such as our founders, Father Benson, Father Grafton, and Father O’Neill, as well as some others, such as Father Johnson, Father Waggett, Father Slade, and our beloved Brother Paul Wessinger – Dr. Coakley examined how risk has played an essential role in the history of the community from the very beginning. Each morning she challenged us to take seriously the risks with which we are being invited to wrestle on a daily basis, as well as to renew our willingness to take risks.