From Faith to Renewed Faith
I had a rear-view mirror for bicycling for thirty-eight years. It was a little wire piece with a round mirror, encased in red plastic tubing, and you attached it to the temple piece of your glasses. I drew more comfort from that rearview mirror than from my helmet – though I don’t ride without a helmet. I thought I would have it forever.
In summer 2006, while riding the canal trail along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania between Freemansburg and Easton, I brushed a twig on a tree and the mirror popped off my glasses and flew into the underbrush. I tried for an hour to find it, and finally gave up in despair. I rode home in an aura of sadness.
The next day, I bought a new rear view mirror, reluctantly. I didn’t really want to admit than my old friend was gone. But I had to face the day, knowing that my sense of comfort and assurance was tied up in wearing a mirror while riding. So I bought a new one.
It’s better than the old one; it is more flexible and it’s adjustable. The face of the mirror gives a bigger view of what’s behind me. I have grown accustomed to it. I no longer pine for my old mirror.
It’s imperfect, as all analogies are, but this experience reminded me of faith. When we are young, faith comes to us in a package that we simply accept. As we grow older, we become accustomed to the package and never question it. But suppose, one day, we awaken to discover that we have lost that simple faith? What then?
Faith is a developmental process. It withers if it remains fixed at a given point in our history. Yet for many people, the security of religion is more important than stepping out in risks of revised and renewed faith. And so one settles into that security and begins to shore it up. Sometimes this leads to a quirky kind of resistance to any input; sometimes it can be aggressively hostile to any new views that threaten to break up and reassemble the model. Many people live with a faith that has not progressed beyond what education they had as teens.
You have to lose that early, easy, received faith in order to move toward maturity. It’s that simple. So the loss of the mirror – to return to my analogy – forced me to consider how I could retain what benefits the old mirror afforded me while at the same time getting a new model that functioned more in accordance with my current maturity and need. After all, the red plastic tubing on the old mirror had long since worn off, the wire had gotten rusty over the years, and the reflecting surface of the mirror was scratched. I kept it because “I always had it,” so it required a dramatic incident to make me see and admit my need for renewal.
As we mature, we manage our own spiritual growth, on one level. We will admit, if we are perceptive, that the Spirit is leading us into new risks and adventures of faith; but from another angle, we seem to be in charge of our development. St Paul said, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling. For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” He saw the process from both our side and God’s.
We have nothing to fear in the renewal of our faith. Jesus said, “Whoever loses life will find it.” There’s a lesson for our faith in my lost rearview mirror.
Published July 5 2008