Most of us live lives of faith whether or not we realize it. We have faith that the sun will rise, we have faith that there will be a tomorrow, we have faith that our minds will function, we have faith in our friends and many of us have faith in God. And it is in this context that at this time of year we are filled with gratitude for time, for our intelligence, for our friends and for our relationship with the holy.
It is an attitude of gratitude that goes beyond the self that is the foundation for our contentment, both emotionally and spiritually. When we live in a world that is focused on the “I,” we seldom are happy. When we focus on others, we can truly be at peace with ourselves and with the world.
This faith and gratitude are the center of my religious life and I believe that I am not unique in this. It isn’t about doing what is necessary to be saved nor is it about a particular set of beliefs. It is living a life based on gratitude for each and every day in our lives, living it with the faith that goodwill happen if we but open ourselves up to the opportunity to do the faithful, the helpful and the loving thing.
We live in times of great despair. There are more unemployed and underemployed people than there have been in decades. We will have more people this winter who will be cold because there are insufficient funds for fuel oil; there will be fewer people in homes because of foreclosures. There are political machinations on both sides of the aisle that make one cringe. It appears that the purpose of elected officials is to get re-elected, not govern for the common good. And we continue to fight in wars rather than work for peace.
So, how can I live a life of gratitude and faith in this environment? How can I truly believe that good things can and will happen? Because I have seen how people can help each other, I have felt the caring that happens when our hearts are welcoming to those without and I hear the call to action. Even in these times when individuals and organizations are hard-pressed economically, we are answering the call to help.
Is it enough to “solve” the problem? No, at least not initially. You see, not everyone sees that sharing of our “wealth” is the way to be truly religious.
A couple of situations in Jesus’ life are instructive. Take, for instance, the time when Jesus was teaching his truth to a large crowd and it was dinnertime. Asked for food with which to feed the crowd, a few people supplied a small amount of bread and fish. With faith, Jesus asked that the crowd be fed with the available food. In this impossible situation, the food somehow multiplied to sufficient amounts to feed the throng.
Miracle performed by Jesus? I am not sure. It could simply be that people were inspired by Jesus’ message to contribute more of what they had. I like to believe that after truly hearing Jesus’ message of generosity and gratitude, people responded by giving to others with a recognition of the abundance in their lives. It was the poor — since 99 percent of the Jews in the time of Jesus lived in poverty — that were so incredibly giving. Might we encourage those with more to give to the many who have little?
I also recall the time when Jesus was approached by a wealthy man who asked how he might enter heaven. Jesus indicated that he should give up his wealth; that money and possessions did not lead to paradise, rather, it impeded the process. The point here is not that wealth is bad, but rather that not sharing it, that holding it for one’s own purposes, is what obstructs the faithful heart. If one shares in what one has whether it be money or time or skills, one can live a life that helps others and can alleviate the needs of so many of our fellow humans — and that could lead to paradise on earth.
Perhaps that is the point of this piece — that if one is to have faith in oneself, one must have faith in others and our ability to care for others. If we have faith in a loving God and that we were made in that image, we need to believe we have the capacity for great generosity of spirit, heart and mind. And, despite the difficult times, I have this faith — that we can make it better, that we can together create a society where everyone has many reasons for which they can be grateful.
I call all of us to acts of great generosity. Our faith requires it. Our fellow humans need it.
The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a monthly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.