Thursday, November 28, 2013

Letting Him in

Christian faith, and the Christian faith—not exactly the same thing, almost not the same thing at all, sometimes even mutually exclusive. Languages with definite articles—Germanic, Romance, Greek, for example—that have words like ‘the’, can use them to draw subtle distinctions between otherwise almost identical terms. I’m not sure how other languages make these distinctions, but I’m sure they do. But Christian faith, and the Christian faith—these each have their own meaning, and to have one is not always to have the other. A contradiction in terms? Maybe, or maybe as matters become profound, human language just fails us.

The Christian faith. Most people know what this means. It’s the Christian religion, of course. It’s a body of doctrinal belief, and patterns of moral, social and ceremonial behavior that arise from it. It can be further broken down into denominations. It can be studied from the inside or the outside. It can be experienced as a moral, social and ceremonial environment. It can be examined, and accepted or rejected philosophically. It can give those who ‘believe’ in it a sense of stability and security in life, and assurance of a ‘happy ending’ in death. Most of all, it provides a framework for daily living that, if followed, works. That’s the Christian faith.

Christian faith. This sounds nearly the same, but when we say or think the words most of us, if we think about them, know that they mean something at least a little different. If we are Christians, we will just assume that we ‘have’ Christian faith, often without asking ourselves what this means. Some of us may ask ourselves, and answer in the same breath, that it’s ‘just going to church, following the golden rule, and reading the Bible and Christian books.’ If we are not Christians, ‘Christian faith’ will be meaningless at worst, or a mere abstraction at best. We just don’t care. For both believers and unbelievers, Christian faith can just be a ‘given’—you either have it or you don’t.

Both terms pivot on the word ‘faith’ which has a different value in each. In ‘the Christian faith,’ it is more of a thing. In ‘Christian faith,’ it is more of a person. In the first, it is another name for intellectual agreement with a system. In the second, it is another name for a proactive relationship with a person. Of course we understand that the system is ‘religion’ and the person is ‘God,’ but the first condition is not necessarily paired with the second: You can belong to the Christian faith without necessarily having Christian faith. The same is true institutionally: A church claiming to be Christian may in fact know nothing of Christ, even though it’s covered with His name.

Faith in the one is assent to a proposition. In the other it is ascent to a disposition. What do I mean by this? Somebody proposes an idea, and you assent to it, or reject it. You are doing the work. You are making the choice. Somebody is disposed to love you, to vouchsafe you goodness itself, and is drawing you upwards, gradually and graciously, in an ascent to Himself. He does the work. He makes the choice. The Christian faith is a kind of deus ex machina that can make the drama of our day to day life endurable. Christian faith is having a dialog with the Writer of our day to day life, in which we join with Him in writing the script, knowing that He wants us.

The feast of the Nativity of Christ lies ahead. The Christian faith will express itself directly in celebrating it religiously, and indirectly by participating in the economic and social phenomena of the Christmas season. Christian faith will express itself in welcoming once again, and in a special way, the ‘Lord before all ages coming to us as a new-born babe.’ What special way? It is the offering, the giving back to Him all that has been given to us in trust, for that is the real meaning of faith—trust. It is the finding Him again born as a man, or a woman, or a child, in our daily life, as the ones who are placed in our path. It is opening to Him, in them, our doors. It is letting Him in.

Η Παρθένος σήμερον, τον προαιώνιον Λόγον, 
εν Σπηλαίω ερχεται, αποτεκειν απορρήτως. 
Χόρευε η οικουμένη ακουτισθεισα, 
δόξασον μετα Αγγέλων και των Ποιμένων, 
βουληθέντα εποφθηναι, 
παιδίον νέον, τον προ αιώνων Θεόν.

The Virgin today, to the Word before all worlds,
comes into the Cave, to give birth, to the unapproachable Being.
Dance, all the universe, in hearing of this,
glorify with angels and shepherds
Him who was willing to manifest Himself
as a new-born babe, the God before the ages.

Romanos the Melodist
Kontakia of the Nativity

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