Recently I stumbled upon a book by an English researcher, Nicola Slee, who has some great insights into women’s faith/spiritual development. She speaks of ‘faithing’, considering this term more suitable to describe the dynamic and active process of meaning-making which is part of spiritual development.
Slee gathered these ideas through interviewing women so it is no surprise that they are interwoven with the simple but essential process of talking, as distinct from chatting.
Firstly ‘Conversational Faithing’ describes those occasions when women articulate and reveal the meaning of their faith and spirituality. The process of speaking and describing allows one to become aware of powerful emotions, developments and changes, riches and possibilities. A genuine conversation helps women become aware of aspects of their faith and of themselves. It provides the space for women to tell their deepest stories and to be liberated.
Have you tried to speak about your faith or spirituality recently? It’s difficult to describe adequately, hard to find words say all that we mean. Usually we turn to metaphors to give shape to our feelings, insights and struggles. We tend to use language such as this, “I felt like I was drowning …”, “My heart lifted …”, “It was as if I was walled in …”. These are examples of ‘Metaphoric Faithing’, the use of metaphors to capture and communicate the essence of experiences which are often beyond words.
Soon after my mother died I visited the cemetery with two of my nieces. A wave of sadness came over me and one of the girls sensed this and held my hand. The other, five years old, skipped along to Nanna’s grave, telling me how peaceful it was here and how much she liked coming here. Upon arriving at Nanna’s grave she perched herself comfortably on the neighbouring grave and said, “I’ve got a song to sing Nanna”. She began to sing, of all things, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. I was incredibly touched by this and noticed for the first time the lyrics that said ‘Hush, my darling, don’t cry my darling’ which seemed addressed to me. As she sang we all joined in the chorus “A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh” and I felt blessed and consoled.
Telling stories of our lives is an example of what Slee calls ‘Narrative Faithing’. Telling the story helps us recognize the sacredness of the event and also gives others a precious story which in turn, blesses them and enables them to see and celebrate the sacred in their lives.
For a long time I prayed for healing and for the removal of parts of myself which I saw as sinful. This went on for years until while praying I had a sense of Jesus saying to me in a light-hearted way “Haven’t you been here before?” This was the beginning of me accepting the fullness of my identity with all its quirks and in all of its humanity. I realized in a very powerful way that I was loved and accepted by God as I was.
This is an example of ‘Personalised Faithing’. I am not talking about God’s love in the abstract but in a personal way. I’ve made a foundational link between my experience and the beliefs of my faith.
This quote from Joan Chittister will help me explain the next strategy: “The moment a woman comes home to herself, the moment she knows that she has become a person of influence, an artist of her life, a sculptor of her universe, a person with rights and responsibilities who is respected and recognized, the resurrection of the world begins.” Here Sr Joan makes the powerful point that the Christian teaching of the resurrection does not apply only to the life of Jesus but to all our lives. Resurrection means that life is possible when all seems dead and hopeless. We each experience resurrection when we begin to live and love again after a time of grieving and loss. We experience resurrection when after a time of winter where we have been enduring a tomb like existence, we notice the beginnings of spring in our lives and the stirring of life and energy.
This is an example of ‘Conceptual Faithing’. Key themes and concepts from our faith tradition are used to interpret our lives in the light of faith.
There is a well-known story of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Apparently in her early life she was blessed with strong and clear sense of God’s love which gave her incredible joy and helped direct her to a vocation of caring for the poor. However, for more than fifty years she lived with a sense of darkness and the complete absence of God. During this time she wrote, “I have begun to love my darkness, for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part, of Jesus’ darkness and pain on the earth.”
Being committed to a life of faith does not mean a life of joy. Many experience an absence of God and in this prolonged and deep loneliness, begin to understand and experience God in the absence. This experience is called ‘Apophatic Faithing’.
So if you want to develop your faith and spirituality, take time for conversation with wise and sensitive friends. Afterwards you might want to look back over the conversation and see how many of these ‘Faithing’ processes were present. And give thanks.
Slee. N. 2004. Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes. London: Routledge