Faith is one of those dangerous religious words that has been defined for us. At times only belonging to our fathers, like in the old hymn “Faith of Our Fathers.” At other times belonging only to those who subscribe to traditional doctrines or believe in creedal statements that cannot be proven. It is time for us to reclaim this word, knowing that the task of all faith traditions is to learn trust – to restore faith in ourselves, each other and in the vicissitudes of life.
Having a child for the first time is a way to learn faith, a faith that fits neatly the biblical definition of “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” My first pregnancy, more than thirty years ago, came as a surprise to both me and my husband. It was unplanned. Newly married, I would watch people mentally count on their fingers how long we had been married when I announced the upcoming blessed event.
I remember one conversation with my husband where I expressed my unbelief: my fear of the unknown, my doubt in my ability not only to parent, but to just be pregnant. He is an engineer. Grounded in science, he reassured me that women had been giving birth since early humans arose out of Africa nearly 160,000 years ago. My DNA was coded for carrying a child and giving birth, he reassured me. I could trust myself, trust science, trust evolution. The blob of cells causing me to be nauseous and anxious would know what to do. My body would know what to do. I could be assured by a hope that countless generations before me had experienced. I could trust in things I could not see.
At 29 weeks the baby stopped moving. We walked through the groundlessness of the following days and weeks without faith in anything except perhaps the passage of time. The autopsy of our little boy didn’t provide any information. We moved forward in faith and were expecting again within five months.
When someone has experienced deep pain, the Chinese have a popular saying to share: “The old man lost his horse.” Likewise, when someone has experienced great joy, they also say, “The old man lost his horse.” It is a reminder of the faith embedded in a tale that comes from the storytelling tradition influenced by Lao Tzu and the wisdom of the Tao.
A farmer’s horse runs off and his neighbor exclaims, “How bad for you!” The farmer says, “I don’t’ know if it’s bad or if it’s good.” The horse comes back with a wild mare that throws the farmer’s son and breaks his legs. The neighbor says, “How bad for you!” The army comes to take the young men from the village to fight a war. The neighbors’ two sons are taken. The farmer’s son with his broken legs must remain at home. The neighbor says, “How good for you.” The farmer says….The never-ending story reminds us that we do not know, that living into a deep agnosticism pulls us forward in faith.
When we engage in a genuine act of faith we do not judge the outcome as good or bad. We know from past experience that life unfolds the way it does. We give up control. We surrender. We learn to trust self, others, and even life itself.