Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Life of Faith, as Best as I Understand It or The Grammar of Faith


          Our relationship to God occurs in at least three grammatical moods. First, is the indicative mood. Faith in this mood is declarative, stating what is true, usually with a fairly high degree of certainty. Fundamentalists of all stripes (right, left, center) can be found here. Intellectual assent is the key virtue in this mood.

          Secondly, we have the imperative mood. Here demand is the main thing. The rules are there and they must be kept. Purity cultures (again, of all stripes) thrive on this imperative mood. Taboo subjects like sex are high profile here. Performance is the key.

          Thirdly, we have the subjunctive mood. Here we find the “perhaps, maybes, hopes, doubts, perplexities” of faith. This is the mood we all live in much of the time if we’re honest. The rough edges and loose ends of life are where this mood thrives. And most of life is lived in this mood. If the first two moods are “summery” where all is bright and clear, the subjunctive mood is more “wintery.” It is a hortatory mood where experience and faith collide as much as or more than they cohere.

          Faith should, I think, be parsed in all three moods. The indicative mood is an anchor, the one or few things we are sure of and tenaciously hang on to. When everything we believe, though, becomes our anchor, we lapse into fundamentalism and deny our experience. The imperative mood expresses the behavioral correlates we consider basic to integrity or faithfulness. Again, these should be few in number with due allowance made for legitimate diversity or e devolve into a purity cult. The subjunctive mood is where we live most of the time, as I said.

          Subjunctive faith is forced upon us by our experience of life as often unpredictable, at times unfathomable, sometimes cruel, seldom fair. Beset by iniquity, inequity, and tragedy, perplexities and doubts cluster around our every attempt to make sense of things. When they threaten to overwhelm us, we hang on to our anchor, the indicative, declarative mood for dear life. Practice of our faith, the imperative, demand mood, often stabilizes us and gives us space to struggle with our doubts and questions.

          This subjunctive mood is where we interface with others. Everyone is in the same subjunctive place we are. This is where our interactions and relationships really hit the road. When we can genuinely inhabit this space, uncomfortable or unpleasant as it may be, we can connect more deeply with those around us. In the subjunctive mood, we listen better, linger longer, and learn more from them. Humanity touches humanity, challenge and change become possible.

          Fundamentalism of either the indicative or imperative moods short circuits this kind of contact. Only with subjunctive relationships with others can we genuinely share our anchors and key behaviors in ways that do shut down communication. We must hold to our anchors and the practices that define and demonstrate who we believe ourselves to be, but we must do this within the shared arena of the subjunctive that gives them their traction.

          Such, as best I can tell, is the life of faith.

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