I’m a part of a fellowship that counts faith as an essential, non negotiable requirement for healing. Now this fellowship has no official rules or leadership, no hierarchical organizational structure and no dues or fees. So faith isn’t a requirement for membership. It’s just suggested that without faith, you might have less of a chance at healing.
This suggestion is a big turn-off to a lot of folks familiar with the fellowship. Especially when the fellowship suggests that if you can’t find faith in a traditional higher spiritual power, why not find it in the fellowship itself? Or, hell, have faith in nature or a pet or a fucking doorknob. Did I mention there are no rules here?
So why the insistence that someone who is looking to heal find faith? Faith in anything, as long as it isn’t your own reason and judgment for once?
The spiritual discipline of believing in something that I cannot yet see, or that cannot be readily and easily proven to me has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. I have come to understand, through acceptance of this suggestion among others, that for me to require that the world hold the burden of proof for my belief in anything was actually one of my biggest spiritual problems. In a past life, if I could not see it, understand it, analyze it, control it, bend it to my will and punish it, it was not worthy of my attention. It was a waste of my time.
I think now at how much this spiritual deficiency impacted my teaching early on. I basically functioned like a puppet master- the more control I had over my classroom, bought at any inhumane cost, the more of a success I felt I was. I knew what was best for everyone, especially young people of color who I believed so desperately needed me to take charge.
And then I noticed, some of my students rebelled. Some stopped coming to my class all together.
The kind of teaching I was so guilty of is the exact opposite of faith in young people. It is at the heart of our deficit lens in schools. “If they cannot provide the proof that they are worthy, intelligent, compliant, then they are not worth our time or efforts.” This is the essence of Dr. King’s “If vs. Though Faith” sermon.
Having faith in our young people is huge. But I have come to realize over time that faith as a spiritual discipline, (and who better than Dr. King to prove that faith requires an incredible amount of discipline) is two-fold. Yes, I must believe that every young person in my care is sacred; precious and brought to us in this world for some (maybe yet unknown) greater purpose. (I know now that the real role of the teacher is simply to help a child discover what that greater purpose might be). Children are, after all, are closest to the Source. (Whatever you believe that Source to be, be it atomic or metaphysical).
But the other side of faith is the practice of me getting the fuck out of the way. Not being in the driver’s seat. Relinquishing control.
(Imagine the best classroom you’ve ever visited. Isn’t this exactly what’s happening? Young people excitedly working and creating and an adult lovingly coaching from the sidelines?)
In this way, faith is one of the purest ways to keep the ego in check. To practice faith is to build the muscle of humility. To be a person of faith is to be able to say: “I don’t have all the answers here, but I believe in something greater than myself.” And as the literature of my fellowship states, “Some of us had already walked far over the bridge of reason toward the desired shore of faith.” These are those magical classrooms we want all of our young people to be a part of, where the educator has walked far over the bridge of reason toward the desired shore of faith in young people.
I think the spiritual practice of faith has been one of the most important components of my own anti-racist identity development. As anyone who read “Stamped from the Beginning” will remember, faith in God was often a frustrating thorn in the side of White supremacy. For me to have faith in something greater than myself, I must admit that I’m not the greatest.
For me to believe that there is a greater vision at work for every human being, I must admit that ultimately I cannot control them, and that actually, to try to control them is a violation of their sacred humanity.
And now to the healing. Why is faith such a healing discipline? Because it is overwhelmingly liberating to free ourselves from the endless, punishing responsibility of requiring the world to bend to our will. Not accepting things we cannot control or understand sets us up for a lifetime of disappointments. Also, in my own personal experience, when I was in charge, I had a pretty predictable tendency to fuck shit up. How could I possibly heal myself with my own will when my own self-will was the problem?
This isn’t to say that in faith I gave myself over completely and now there isn’t any effort towards a greater good. It’s quite the opposite. In my fellowship we have a saying, “I row, my higher power steers.” I love this image as a metaphor for “Faith without works is dead.” I could sit in my canoe all day long, proclaiming that I have faith, that I’ll get where I need to go because I’m not in charge… and I’d be sitting in that fucking lake for the rest of my life.
It’s my job to do the work. To envision the shore and row like hell to get there.
I just might not be in charge of the route. And I’m ok with that. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.