I am a firm believer in epiphanies, those times when something strikes me that I never really thought of or considered before, but which now seems so clear and so understandable. My favorite place to find epiphanies isn’t necessarily Facebook, but now and then I see my own as well as those that others have experienced. This one that I read the other day practically stood up and screamed, “EPIPHANY!”:
In the Nicene Creed, I quite by accident, found an intentional change in a sentence I have repeated a bazillion times: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…” I found an intentional break, a comma, between … “of a all that is, seen and unseen…” Now, I’ve blown through that statement and never realized I was supposed to pause at the end of the statement “…all that IS,…” All that IS. Everything. No Exceptions…then, it continues …”seen and unseen”…whether you can see or not.*
One of the tenets of Christianity is that God is the maker of all things. The epiphany that Bill had was that a small punctuation mark he had never noticed before added an emphasis he hadn’t considered— a comma between “maker of all things” and “seen and unseen.” Try reading it without that little pause and then reread it with the break. It may not make a tsunami of a change for us, but it does change the perspective just a bit. God, the creator, created all things, whether or not we can see them. We can look at it as something like the wind. We can’t see the wind itself, but we can see what the wind does. Watch the leaves blow on it on the trees, or the clouds move in the sky, or the sway of flowers as the breeze goes by. We see the action, not the cause. It’s worth spending time contemplating the things that God has created that we can’t see.
Good old Paul. In his letter to the Hebrews, he has come up with something that makes the same point: “Now faith Is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Verse three then tells us that: “By faith, we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
If we think about something that’s unseen, many times we think about faith. Like the wind, faith is only visible through its action within a person or group. Our belief is demonstrated by the willingness to be baptized. For all of us, baptism is the entrance into a life of faith, whether or not we practice it with any regularity or even institutionally. Action is what shows up when we practice what we believe, what we have faith in. It’s that simple.
Faith is something that can get a person through a situation that is possibly very dangerous, uncomfortable, or even deadly. It carried the martyrs throughout the ages as they faced their deaths because they had their faith and for them, it was unshakable. It was and is a kind of support, a guidepost, and a staff to lean on even though none of those things are visible. Faith is doing what may not be the most natural thing but is the right thing. It is the letting go of my personal will and putting it in God’s hands while still using the intellect and reasoning ability that God gave me at my birth to do what is right and what I should be doing.
Faith isn’t something that will necessarily make me rich; it may not get me up off an ash pit such as Job found himself on because of his faith. I’m wondering if sometimes it isn’t more possible for people who have little to have this kind of faith, just because they have little and don’t expect to be given a Rolls-Royce or a multi-million-dollar mansion. I think of the poor in so many countries who flocked to the church because they believed that with enough faith they could follow God more closely, and trust that things will work out for them if they are faithful to God. I think of pictures of grannies and aunties around the world kneeling in churches, praying rosaries, bringing a flower to a shrine, or spinning a prayer wheel. There many ways to practice faith and prayer is indeed one of them; however, prayer, like faith, needs to be accompanied by actions. Jesus told us what steps we needed to take, but even somewhat repetitious pronouncements of those words don’t always seem to get across to a lot of people. Some call it the social gospel; others call it bleeding hearts. Which one of those terms would you think of when you think of the words of Jesus? Which would Jesus use?
This coming week, with the beginning of Lent, all of us will be asked to take on things instead of merely giving up trivialities like chocolate or movies. Practices such as reading a spiritual book, attending church more often, volunteering to help the homeless, hungry, or the elderly, perhaps even working with children to help others whom Jesus told us to help. If we contribute more actively to food banks, animal shelters, and other places where people come with hope and faith that there will be what they need in those places, that is faith in action. Blankets, food, and even the gift of time are practices. Lent is a perfect time to practice the “seen” part of faith and not just leave it unseen.
A blessed Lent to all of you. God bless.
*Quote from Bill Lambert, found on Facebook, February 21, 2019. Used with permission of the author.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.