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day 73: to faith

April 15, 2011

[Note: previous posts in my “Gifts of My Used Belongings to Nieces Who May or May Not Have Any Interest In Receiving Them” series have referred to my nieces only by initial.  In this entry, I address my five year-old niece by her first name.  I hope she doesn’t mind.]

Dear Faith:

I’m not sure if you know this or not, but you very nearly had a different name.  Your parents entered the hospital’s delivery room with one name in mind for you, and when you emerged, slick and healthy, you were called Faith instead.  Since I’d hate to draw any hackneyed conclusions from this dramatic eleventh-hour sleight-of-name, I will simply say I am glad you are Faith.  Five years later, I cannot imagine that soft blond hair of yours curling around any other name.

If I had a year or two, I’d write you a book about faith (big F, little f, no matter).  I am no theologian — I couldn’t pretend to teach anyone about God — but I do believe all of us can unfold the cloak; I believe we are each empowered to peek in the cupboard door and tilt our head toward belief.  I’ve joined the conversation about faith in many ways, but most often I’ve done so by reading the wise words of others.

Anne Lamott (whose book Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life you should absolutely read, once you can) wrote this on the topic:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do. The first holy truth in God 101 is that men and women of true faith have always had to accept the mystery of God’s identity and love and ways.”

I just love that.  The reminder to test our construction of God against our own fears and prejudices, to accept the mystery of God’s ways, is a mighty one.  So Faith, please remind me, as I grow old and rheumy-eyed and fragile, to regularly confront what I believe to be true.  Urge me to dwell in the intricacy of belief, remembering that to live means to grow.  I promise to do the same for you.

When I graduated from high school, I received a hardcover copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (I’m sure you’ll get a copy for your graduation, too — be sure to read it).  In it, Gibran tells the story of a mysterious prophet who, wishing to give gifts but possessing nothing material, shares his wisdom on a number of topics.  I’ve returned, over and over again, to the lyrical cadence of Gibran’s words on religion:

“Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying, ‘This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?’
All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.”

Gibran’s words evoke a favorite Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.”  Embody your faith, his message says, in each mundane daily task.  Live it when you wake up in the morning and when you fall asleep at night, when you are a little child and when you’ve grown up.  What a lofty goal this is; what a bright star to aim toward.

Faith, I wonder who you will be when you grow up.  I imagine you, pink-cheeked and cheerful, and I feel certain you’ll know a faith that anchors and emboldens you.  If you’re ever in doubt, let your parents’ love for you (an infinite well that inspired a similarly boundless name) be your star.

While I don’t think we’re supposed to decipher all the mysteries of belief, I know we were born to love one another.  That’s my book on Faith, I guess.  I look forward, one day, to reading yours.

Until then, and in keeping with my niecely tradition, I give you these earrings:

I know your ears aren’t pierced yet, but they will be soon.  Once they are, I hope you’ll enjoy wearing these same shiny little flowers I’ve worn hundreds of times over the years.  I wore them on Day 73, in fact, while I wrote to you.  Just like the flowers blooming in my yard, they remind me of the fresh promise of spring.

With love,

Aunt Anne

[I hope your Friday is filled with mystery and blooming flowers.  Thank you, always, for showing up.]

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