Autumn landscape

Carefully pasted into the pages of my pre-social media scrapbooks I have photos and bits of memorabilia that date back to my years in the Northern Territory. They were good years, even though at the time I was ignorant of the damage the sun was doing to my unprotected skin. Weatherwise there were just two seasons – the wet and the dry. In the wet I got prickly heat and in the dry there was a lot of dust and I occasionally wore a cardigan. As you might guess, I was young.

One of the things I appreciated on my return to Melbourne was autumn when for a few weeks pockets of the southern states of Australia look like Northern hemisphere tourist brochures. Now I live in Warrandyte where there are no European trees shouting Gloria in vivid shades of red, orange and gold, just young gums displaying tentative new growth and wattles thinking about the golden days ahead.

The autumn landscape here is cold mornings, mist drifting through the green of the eucalypts and evenings that close-in before 6 o’clock. That landscape calls me to recognise God in a seasonal manifestation of the Creator’s complexity. It’s God’s face, turned to me, inviting me in.

That morning mist is how I sometimes catch a glimpse of who God is, of the relationship between God and me. I see, but I don’t see. Just when I begin to think that I might understand the mystery of who or what is God, it’s gone. The trees might be firmly rooted in the ground but I experience them as shadowy, and that’s a bit like how I see God’s presence in my life.  Misty morning.JPG

In the early evening it’s sometimes cool enough to light the fire. It doesn’t greatly increase the house temperature but it looks wonderful. Something about it slows me down, sets me dreaming. It’s just a couple of months since the smell of smoke in the air would set me panicking. That’s the thing about fire – it can comfort and it can consume. Like God.

Our home is flat roofed and the sloping ceilings are timber lined which means that we can enjoy the sound of rain – even if while heavy rain drowns out the TV. But it’s not so much the sound that gives me a God sense, but gratitude for a security that I have done nothing to deserve. The prophet Isaiah must have experienced this too because in chapter 4, verse 6, he says God “will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.”

The nights can be dark, thick layers of cloud blocking out the starlight with not even a streetlight to send fingers into the deep shadow. And that’s so like God. People call it the dark night of the soul and it can mean many different things. John of the Cross, a Carmelite who lived in the 1600s said that this experience we call a dark night is caused by the presence of God that is so bright that it results in darkness.

When I read things like this I recognise that I am out of my depth. But doesn’t any God talk take us out of our depth?

Judith Lynch

Faith is a slippery fish

Holding a live fish is a very slippery affair – there aren’t any hand holds and this small, shining, silvery gray creature is alive and moving. Just like faith. Faith is hard to put into words. If we are prepared to let our faith grow and mature then we find out that our ideas of what faith is somehow slip and slide awayfish from our grasp. Now we understand it, now we don’t.

We find ourselves confusing faith with religion. Faith requires care, honest reflection and courage. Our culture identifies faith with wishful thinking, naivete, a perceived lack of courage to face what they believe to be truth, piety that verges on superstition, immaturity, narrowness and fundamentalism. Maybe that is our fault. We get used to seeing expressions of faith like a supermarket range – a mix and match of stories, words, customs and rituals that have been integrated into the way we perceive and practice our religion.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that faith is deeply personal, dynamic and living and changing, while religion is the way faith may be expressed.

An axiom that has been around a long time says that faith is caught, not taught. Being born into a Catholic family, educated in a Catholic school can give us a relationship to a religion, a faith community. But this is not the same thing as a faith in God. It’s easier to believe in Gospel values, go to Mass every Sunday, live a life that is ecologically just, than it is to have a personal and real relationship with God.

Faith is rarely expressed where our head is at, and even less likely to be where our heart is. It’s wrapped up in our commitments. It’s that something that holds us in a marriage after the romance has been tangled up and mislaid in the laundry, the kitchen and children’s bedrooms. It’s found in paid employment that looks forward all the week to the weekend. It’s going to Mass even when the adult children have given up and drifted away from Catholic practices.

In Church language we are called “the faithful”. As we grow older, world events, climate change, family break-downs and differences in how morality is perceived can test our faith. It can become more difficult to live a faith-full life, placing our trust in God when it would seem more comfortable to retreat to a simpler time. An adult faith response takes an intelligent look at the options, prays about them, then makes a decision that is placed in God’s safe hands.

To make an adult act of faith, to live faith-fully, requires an inner journey to that part of my soul where I must face my sinfulness, my fear that I am unlovable, that I will one day die, that I have insecurities that I don’t even want to name. Faith means I am able to name these deep, deep concerns and fears when I relate to God in prayer, the kind of prayer that stumbles over words.

We try to tell ourselves that this kind of faith doesn’t make sense especially when we no longer feel enthusiasm for faith practices that once nurtured us. But if we are honest and courageous we will recognise that something deep is happening to us, beyond that which we can explain or feel. This is what faith means. This is where faith lives. This is where God is.

Judith Scully