I have been reading an inspiring book called, The Reed of God, by Carryl Houselander (2006). I’ve just discovered her spiritual writings and I’ve been so encouraged by her contemplative and reverent approach to scripture and the Christian tradition. She was both a writer and a carpenter – interesting pursuits for a single woman who lived in Britain during both World Wars. Her writing often deals with issues of suffering and loss, and reveals an authentic personal struggle to have a heart that is firmly established in God and His church. I hesitate to try to summarize any of her writing because it is difficult to remove even one word – each word is chosen so carefully and draws you more deeply into her meditations. But I’m going to try in this post, with multiple direct quotes (in italics), because I am so intrigued with one aspect of this latest book – something she calls, ‘daily acts of faith.’ I am often in need of strengthened faith and I am hoping that practising these acts will help me and may also help my readers. I also see these acts of faith as translating easily into the classroom and establishing a sacred space for relationships to flourish.
Houselander describes an ‘act of faith’ in the following way, “…believing something because God has told us that it is so…Faith is something immeasurably more than a sixth sense, more than intuition, more than feeling or knowledge.” Mary is our example here through her hearing from God that Christ was being formed in her and her acceptance (fiat) of this truth. Houselander goes on to say that Mary’s daily act of faith, believing that Christ was within her, was part of the nurturing of Christ’s growth within her. She encourages us to perform the same daily act faith, to believe that Christ is in us – to say, “My God, I believe that you are within me.” This is an act of faith because, “It is quite incredible to think that God is really present in me.” This first act of faith brings us peace, “…it silences the noise of distraction, the loud busyness of fear. It is the stilling of waters. It gathers our thoughts into a circle like a crown of flowers; it crowns us with peace…Christ our Lord is within us; there is no room for any other awareness; everything that we see and touch and taste and think must be related to this one fact…It not only enables us to believe in the miracles which throng our lives, but it makes our charity a thousand times more sensitive…Awareness of the presence of Christ in us draws us off from every distracting and destructive preoccupation, such as self-pity, anxiety, irritability with other people, the morbidity which leads us to dwell more upon our own sinfulness than up the beauty of God….In the wonder of the awareness we are able to accept the humiliation of being ourselves.” It is ok to be me when Christ has entered even me.
There is also a ‘second daily act of faith’ – believing that Christ is in others. “Just as we cannot depend upon feelings to know that Christ is in ourselves, we cannot depend upon appearances to know that He is in others…” She compares the faith we need to have that Christ is in others to the faith that we have that Christ is present in the Eucharist. Those who have a sacramental understanding the Eucharist and come to the cup regularly, have no difficulty believing that Christ is present there – our practice has taught us this. We can have that same reverent orientation to all persons, and we have exactly the same reason for believing in both: the word of Christ. “Both are miracles of love which, like God’s peace, pass understanding.” Because faith isn’t about rational certainty or intuition or feelings, we are “… like blind people learning, through the touch of caressing fingers, the features of the face that we cannot see. We discover the Face that we seek in every human face; and just because we must seek with a more sensitive medium than sight, we are not put off by the visible things: the mutilation, bruises, sweat, dirt, and tears. Beyond all this we discern the invisible beauty of the Man abiding in mankind...”
There is a caution given in this second daily act of faith. There is a particular spirit that true faith provides as we seek Christ in others. “Faith simplifies the search. We do not have to discover in which of several people Christ is to be found: we must look for Him in them all. And not in an experimental spirit, to discover whether He is in them or not, but with the absolute certainty that He is...If we look for Christ only in the saints, we shall miss Him. If we look for Him only in those people who seem to have the sort of character we personally consider to be Christian, that which we call our ‘ideal,’ we shall miss the whole meaning of His abiding in us. If we look for Him in ourselves, in what we imagine to be the good in us, we shall being in presumption and end in despair…Our search through faith and courage and love is a great going out into darkness, a reaching out to others in darkness, believing that Christ is there in each one; but not in the way we expect, not in the way that we think He should be, not in the way that we already understand, but in the way that He chooses to be, Who is Himself the Way.” If we seek with faith, we shall find. How wonderful to find Christ each day in each person – with charity a thousand times more sensitive!”
Two daily acts of faith – believing Christ is within you, helping Him to be formed in you, and believing Christ is in others and then naturally responding to that image in ways that recognize the suffering of Christ being borne in each person. The seeing of Christ cannot help but motivate daily acts of kindness and compassion and forgiveness. And then the love you give generates even more life in you because these daily acts of faith nourish one another. We respond to Christ in others in the same way that St. John the Baptist responded to Christ in Mary. It is an inner movement (and then outer). It is a movement that brings us the same joy it brought Elizabeth and Mary….”a sudden rush of sweetness of life within us.”
Christ is in us, He is in every colleague, every students, every friend, every family member, every person. We need acts of faith to find Him where we least expect Him, to see beyond appearances and behaviour and expectations, to see Him in the tears and mutilation and suffering, to see Him even in ourselves. He is hidden, but never absent. The eyes of our heart just need healing. I think daily acts of faith can help us heal. I also think it is interesting that she didn’t suggest that a daily act of faith would be to read more scripture or pray more or become more knowledgeable about doctrine. I’m sure she wouldn’t suggest that the latter are unimportant or unhelpful, but she seems to be reorienting us – keeping us face to face with each other and Christ, helping us know Christ, helping us experience His presence. What could encourage our faith more?