Faith is a funny thing. I can recall being seven years old, asking my mother theological questions about our faith, and her telling me with great conviction that some things we weren’t meant to know or understand. Needless to say, that answer was less than satisfying. Eventually she told me there were “man made” rules and “God made” rules, and I needed to pay attention to the “God made” rules. That worked, at least for a little while, until I was old enough to begin a new line of theological inquiry.
Isn’t that the way of faith? Always inquiring, having a sense of satisfaction and certainty, until all of a sudden new questions arise and that divine discontent nudges loudly within us, relentlessly tapping on our shoulder until we pay attention. I have continually experienced an element of uncertainty when it comes to faith – evolving, changing, growing. At the same time, I feel a tension inside reminding me that faith is about knowing, a conviction of what is true. Yet how can it be both?
Think of it this way. A midwife has to be well-educated, knowledgable about the birthing process. She is there to help the one giving birth, to cheer her on, offer support and eventually place the newborn into mom’s arms. But, she cannot do the birthing for her – that’s mom’s work. These are the two central energies at work, yin and yang energy.
Yang, or masculine approach, is organized, knowledgable, powerful, concrete, basically “here’s the facts,” embodied, in part, by the role of the midwife. Yin energy, or feminine approach, is more reflective, less observational and deeply felt, it’s a knowing derived from living and experiencing, embodied, in part, by the role of the mother. Faith formation is quite similar. We are each midwifing and birthing our faith, our credo, what we believe. It too requires yin and yang energy.
The yin approach is “that” within each of us us which is always seeking, allowing for more discovery, and continued reflection in order to have an expanded understanding and clarity of our faith and how it is evolving. Yin energy is reflective, embryonic energy. It is relational and compassionate, comfortable living with mystery and diversity. Healthy yin is willing to look at things, hold various perspectives, basically practice “let’s try this on and see how it fits.” This is the world of questioning and doubt, and for many, it can feel unsettling and counterintuitive to what we may have been taught as children.
The yang energy is our moral imperatives, our proclaimed ultimate truths that are unwavering, definitive and offer us great certainty. In Unity we might refer to our five principles as indicative of Yang energy – definitive information and foundational practices for good spiritual growth. For many Christians it might be the Apostles Creed, for Muslims perhaps the 5 Pillars. Think of it as the ground on which we stand. This is the world of long-held wisdom and beliefs held by millions, and can bring great peace of mind in challenging and chaotic times. It also can at moments feel overbearing, for those who prefer the veil of mystery and curiosity.
We need both yin and yang to understand, grow and practice our faith – we need the lived experience of the numinous through meditation, rituals, nature and the unexpected. We also need the learned knowledge and information gleaned through more formal education. Our faith formation is holding assertively to that which we are sure of today while we also make room to dance with what we learn that may be different, allowing it to shape us, change us and discover if what we have learned is meant to become a part of us.
This is not always an easy task. Many times during difficulties I want to cling to structures of knowing with every fiber of my being. I often want to tightly clench certainties and principles that I believe will be my salvation from the sufferings in experiences of grief, anger, depression, loss and shame. But if I don’t also have space for the mystery, for dancing with the discomfort to learn what is unfolding for my growth, I will never know the wholeness of this life I live. An important practice I have developed to do this dance, is the practice of belonging – it is more than a value or feeling, belonging is indeed a practice and whole-hearted experience.
Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” One of the deepest human longings – is the longing to belong, to be a part of things, to midwife, comfort and support each other, affirm what we know to be true, while also birthing what we are longing to know, what we are longing to have in our life. So if we have no peace, remember, not only do we belong to each other, but it is also our invitation to BE. THE. LONGING – to be that which you seek, that which is still unseen and a mystery.