Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

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People have different understandings about faith, what it is, why some have it and others don’t and also as one matures, the above understandings change, it seems to be a life long process. A slow maturing that never ends, an ever deepening adventure for those who are on the path, pilgrims who learn to deal with uncertainty along with the deepening of faiths roots. I would say for me, at this time, faith is a choice, one that I make everyday.

There are times when I am praying, a feeling comes to me that can be expressed in these words: “Do I really believe that anyone is there, or cares, or that my prayers have any effect at all?” It is then I think that a chance to choose is placed before me. I can either say, yes there is meaning to prayer, or I can say no, there is no one there and then go on with my life. Either path chosen by me, the yes to faith or the no, I still must walk a dark path, for no one sees God, hence doubt will at times be present no matter which path I choose. We seem to live in a world where any kind of dedication to a certain understanding of the nature of the world, takes a certain amount of faith. For both sides can give a good account of why they believe the way they do. So in the end, we all must choose. Also as the old saying goes: “Not choosing is also a choice”, we can’t get away from it; a path must be taken, hopefully honestly chosen and not based on some kind of reaction from the past, which is really a kind of emotional prison only complicating matters. Anger, is not usually the best way to make decisions on important issues about life. I feel that faith is one of those important issues.

I suppose if I lived in a culture where there was only one faith or ideology; then to think about my adopted attitudes, so as to consciously choose, might never come up. However in a culture like the one I live in, the USA, then thought is needed if maturity is to be achieved. If not, then ones philosophy, or religion, or ideology, is mostly based on defensive stances, leading to black and white understandings of what others think and believe. This goes for both those who call themselves atheist or agnostic as well as those who follow a spiritual path, or a specific religion. Read Dawkins or one of the other ‘new atheists’, or perhaps some religious tract that is based on ignorant, simplistic, childish thinking, to see this in action. Straw men are created, and then they are torn apart. Well people are not made of straw, and choices on what one believes or often deep and complex, at least for many.

I am a Catholic, I choose to be one, I choose to use certain prayer forms because they help me in my relationship not only with God, but also with others. For my faith over the years has slowly healed my heart, which is still ongoing, hopefully never to end while I life. The sacraments are sources of healing for me. I think the Churches understanding of the body of Christ and the place the Blessed Mother plays along with the saints is something beautiful and a mystery that will need ever deepening understandings. So yes when I have doubts, I choose to continue. I hope that all can do that, choose and not just react, no matter what their choice is. For we are seekers after truth, we interpret, we have perceptions, we ask questions, it is our path.

I also think that both religion and spirituality need to go together. The struggle within any faith community is part of the process of growth needed to mature and grow. I feel those who are on a solitary path are doing well, but without the irritation of others to draw out our shortcomings, a certain level of growth and self knowledge is lost. Of course this is my opinion, but one I think is borne out in the lives of many. Also in community we can carry each other when weak, learn from the wisdom of others and can have a long tradition of tried and true spiritual disciplines that work. The growth in the love of others can only happen when self knowledge is gained and in spite of that one learns to love what one is. This is the second commandment given by Christ, to love others as we love ourselves. People do mirror back, we see our reflections in others, both the good and the bad and yes the ugly and evil. When not understood we then punish others for merely being a messenger of what is hidden inside of us. To live alone might be more peaceful, but a great deal of inner reflection and healing is lost. It is in the fire of inner turmoil that humility is gained, though the process can be long and arduous. The ability to calmly accept the truth whatever it may be is truly being free.

There comes a point when trust in the presence of God is achieved. When God’s love for us is accepted without restraint, when our failures only encourage us to get up in trust and move forward; in other words trust leads to looking beyond ourselves in utter abandonment to the love of God. The tyranny of the ego is over. Something I have yet to achieve.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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