Notes on faith: What, to the heathen, is faith?

Whether "churched," a non-believer, or somewhere in between, faith functions in all of our lives, all the time. TheGrio's new series explores the power of faith across belief systems.

“Notes on Faith is theGrio’s inspirationalinterdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.

“Are you sure you want me there? I’m a heathen!” I giggled as a good friend invited me to an Easter gathering of Black theologians several years ago. As a Catholic schoolgirl turned “spiritual but not religious” adult, I was only half-joking. While “heathen” was a gross mischaracterization, the dogma of my early upbringing still hummed in my subconscious. I could practically hear the nuns of my youth warning me that when it comes to faith, religion was requisite — and you’re therefore either in, or you’re out.

Having decided in adolescence that the often absolutist teachings of the Roman Catholic religion no longer rang true for me, I had rejected it — which, by some standards, definitely meant I was “out.” Unwilling to abandon my belief in God (and a spiritual rebel, if you will), I sought to develop a belief system that wasn’t God-fearing but unconditionally loving, one in which I wasn’t required or even expected to live in God’s image to receive God’s grace.

Because heathens need love too. Don’t they?

Notes on Faith, faith and spirituality, religion, Christianity,
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As it turns out, we heathens also need faith. In fact, we already have it.

As Christians know, Hebrews 11:1-6 (of the New King James Version) tells us, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” While I may never return to organized religion, my own spiritual journey — which, to date, has included explorations of Hinduism, Buddhism, and beyond — has taught me faith isn’t just for “believers.” Every day, we “step out on faith,” whether it’s cultivating a belief in something larger than ourselves, the belief, amid difficulty, that things will somehow turn out alright, or simply the unconscious belief that we will take the next breath or make it to the next destination.

Life is inherently uncertain; at its core, faith is having the confidence to move forward despite that uncertainty. In this way, it is both universal and infinite; the countless choices and gestures made daily in the belief that each of us belongs here, even if our purpose remains unclear. While some may find their faith supported by a book, a set of guidelines, or a like-minded community, as evidenced by each and every breath we take, the only demonstration faith requires is that we keep going.

That essential and universal definition of faith is the genesis (pun intended) of theGrio’s new series, “Notes on Faith.” In an era where the more fundamentalist among us seem intent on drawing us further from common ground, this weekly series of essays, articles, and revelations from thought leaders across faith traditions is intended to remind us that faith is not proprietary. There is no prerequisite or qualification to deem us worthy of grace. Faith is accessible to all of us, all the time, should we need it.

For those wondering, yes, this heathen did join that gathering of the righteous and “churched” on one of the high holy holidays, and several of those theologians will be joining us for this series. To date, it remains one of the most joyous holiday celebrations of my life; not because I emerged newly convinced of the power of religion but because I felt unconditionally held, accepted, and loved, even as I stood firm in my own version of God. Frankly, I can’t think of a better demonstration of faith; to accept each other as we are, always seeking to see the good without seeking to indict or change what we don’t agree with or understand. Because our faith is enough.

Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades of experience in fashion and entertainment, great books, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body: Words of Change series.

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