I was speaking yesterday with a man whose family has suffered a number of close bereavements. Toward the end of the conversation, he said “for people without faith, I don’t know how they would get through this”. In this, he echoed the very same sentiment which a friend of mine has verbalised to me on a few occasions.
Faith is a curious thing. It does not protect us from experiencing the trials and tribulations of life, but it does give us a very particular prism through which we both see and approach those moments which come to every single one of us. Christ did not promise that faith in Him would protect us from the need to carry our cross in life – but He did promise that in carrying it, we would be following Him.
Now, one of the most basic expressions of professing a religious faith is that we pray. Prayer is that indispensable first step which opens our heart to God and invites him to enter there; it is also our invitation to the Lord to remain there with us at every moment of every day; and it is the simplest expression of our desire to walk the path of life, whatever it might bring us, in the company of the Almighty and in His friendship.
I pray each day and I bless God for this gift – because I know that it is indeed a gift. Prayer is not something I initiate – rather, it is my personal response to the Lord who first approaches me and invites me to draw close to Him in this way.
But it has not always been so.
Looking back across the years of my life, I can see all too clearly those moments when prayer, that first step, that desire for relationship, was simply not there, or was very poor in terms of it’s quality and consistency. At those times, it was, I suppose, rather like claiming to have a good friend who, when that friend draws close, I would ignore or else speak to only in the passing, with nothing more than the most superficial of dialogue. And make no mistake – prayer is certainly dialogue; it is as much about what we listen to, as what we say.
Also at those moments, and with the benefit of hindsight, I see that it was not simply prayer that was lacking – the loss of prayer was itself a first step in a process of gradually increasing the distance between the Lord and I at a personal level. And worse still, this happened without my so much as noticing this was even taking place.
Before we know it, we can be much further from the Lord than we were previously – a bit like losing touch with a once-good friend through nothing more than not speaking over a protracted period of time, realising this all too late.
While we may find ourselves moving more distantly away from the Lord, He does not move away from us – if anything, it is in those moments that takes a step closer to us, gently reminding us of His presence and of His unfailing love for us. Perhaps what is crucial here is that we are able to notice that He is doing so. In my case, I was often only able to see the signs of this after the event, rather than at the time – or perhaps at the time I did not wish to see them. I read something earlier today which touched on this – the woman writing the piece noted that she was aware of the little nudges from the Lord, but she realised she had studiously ignored them, as to do otherwise would have necessitated change of some kind. Perhaps many of us do something similar at various moments.
When we live – really live – a life of faith, not only professing our belief but doing our very best, day after day, to express it in all we are and in all we do, something wonderful happens. Our faith becomes like the purest sunlight. It warms and caresses and consoles us in all the moments of life, and it becomes not only something we can perceive as being very real, but it becomes the way in which we perceive all of reality, it’s own pure light giving colour and vibrancy to everything else.
This is the gift of faith. It enables us to see the Cross not as folly, but as the very key of Heaven.