by Christine Sine
Last Sunday my husband Tom and I were able to go to our first in person service at our local Episcopal church. It was wonderful to enter into the liturgy and share communion again. One part of the service I always love is reading the Nicene Creed, which I feel strengthens my faith and helps remind me of what being Christian is all about.
Several years ago I wrote a personal creed. It followed a visit to Australia shortly after my mother’s surgery for a collapsed spine. A steel rod in her back strengthened the existing structure and returned some of its youthful vitality. She looked years younger, her face was less stressed and she gained two inches in height. Watching her walk straight and tall for the first time in years was wonderful. It was sobering, however, to realize that even though she has two sons, a daughter and a daughter in-law, all who are doctors, no one had noticed the severity of her problem.
Have we, too, lost our backbones and no one has noticed, I started to wonder? Has the strength and vitality of our faith collapsed diminishing us to a mere shell of what God intends us to be? What are the things that contribute the iron and steel that makes us stand straight and tall in the presence of God and of those around us?
These are questions that seem particularly important in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and of the intense heat that we have struggled with on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada this last week, indicating the severity of climate change. The core values of our faith should not only embrace our own personal life and the prayer and spiritual practices that move us closer to God. They should also embrace our concern for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of neighbors and strangers as well as for God’s good creation. It is easy for us to feel overwhelmed when we recognize the inequities of our societies and the devastation of environments that we have contributed to. It is easy to do nothing because we feel so overwhelmed even though our hearts ache for those who suffer and for the creation that groans in anguish. This is where I feel personal creeds are important. They help move our principles from our heads to our hearts and that then leads to action.
If you can, set aside a retreat day to allow God to speak to you about your faith. Make a list of your core beliefs and the spiritual practices that nurture those beliefs. Look over the list and prayerfully consider: Do these values embrace all aspects of life and of God’s world? Is your faith strong and vibrant or weak and frail? What provides the iron and steel you need to grow your faith into a whole-life faith in the future? What actions could you take to strengthen your backbone?
Creating a personal creed that gives zest and vigor to our faith is a great way to strengthen our spiritual backbones. The less confident we are of our core beliefs, the more likely we are to focus on “holier than thou” practices without any substance to define us. Whether we drink, smoke, or condone same-sex marriages, whether we call God father, mother or Eternal One, are not central to our faith but we often treat them as though they are. It is these non-essentials we use to separate us from other believers and non-believers. They become our litmus test to decide who is and who isn’t a part of the body of Christ.
Being with my mother after her surgery encouraged me to reflect on my own beliefs and write my own personal creed. It provides a statement that I can return to whenever I feel insecure in my faith. It’s a little like a calling statement but with a little more detail about what I believe rather than what I want to do with my live.
We believe and trust in God our creator,
Who made us to be neighbors together,
brothers and sisters
from every tribe and nation and culture.
We believe and trust in Christ our redeemer,
Who saves us
from self-centeredness and isolation,
To be joined together as parts of a body,
That loves and cares for every person,
And for God’s beautiful creation.
We believe and trust in the Spirit our enabler,
Who calls us to be one family
With rich and poor, disabled and whole.
With young and old, oppressed and despised.
And who calls us to be
responsible stewards of all creation.
We believe and trust in God,
Creator, redeemer, enabler,
Who welcomes us home
into the eternal world,
Where justice and love will reign forever.
We believe and trust in God’s new world coming,
Where one day together with sisters and brothers from every nation, creed and race,
and with all creation
We will be healed and made whole to become all that God intends us to be.
Read through the Nicene Creed and/or Apostles’ Creed as well as some of the other lesser known creeds – The Immigrant’s Creed is particularly powerful. I also love these Celtic creeds – Patrick’s creed and the Ionian Creed and this Christmas creed. Ask your friends, see if they can recite an elevator speech that reflects their beliefs.
All this should provide good guidelines for your personal creed. My suggestions for what to include are: our beliefs about God Almighty, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the worldwide church, the kingdom of God (life of the world to come) and about our purpose here on earth. Use your research to write down a beginning creed.
Now prayerfully examine what you have written. What would you like to add or subtract? Use this as a foundation for writing your own creed. Share it with your friends. Talk about it together. What else would you like to include in this statement? Once you have a completed creed I suggest that you keep a copy in your Bible or journal. Read it through at least once a week. Meditate on it and write down your reflections. All of these will strengthen your faith and put steel in your backbone.