How much faith is enough?

Chaplain Fr Richard Browning

Chaplain Fr Richard Browning


“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:3-5

 I recently had an encounter with a remarkable woman. I am not the same. She faced extreme hardship with an unworldly grace and dignity. The encounter was not momentary but over an extended period. On her lips were the simple words: ‘I am a believer’. Some, especially those involved in organised religion, often understand faith as a construction made of rivet and weld, something so solid and firm as to carry great loads and even passing trucks. What strikes me about these constructions is that they cease to become faith and are feats of personal piety that lead to pride, not trust. Remember, this is not what Jesus talks about. Jesus talks about tiny things, mustard seeds, pin-pricks of possibility that are enough to move mountains. Remember too, faith, by definition, is not certainty. That is why it is called faith. 

So in this encounter I found a woman hanging by an elegant wisp of a thread - no bigger than a single spider’s weave – and it was enough for her to say ‘amen’, it was enough for her to be anchored, enough even for her to surrender her entire weight. This elegant thread came without the language of church or artefact of religion. This faith simply trusted, plainly, un-anxiously. I found this compelling. In a wonderfully perplexing way, I encountered faith whose effectiveness was inversely proportional to its mass. It was like holding in your hand a seed but feeling the weight of the entire tree, fully grown. Faith was simple, fragile trust. It was a leaning one’s whole weight backwards, trusting the thread and finding it enough, even while hovering above the abyss of the unknown, darkness, even death, ready to engulf and swallow. 

I received a transformative lesson from this remarkable woman on so many levels, including what Jesus might have been pointing to when speaking of the poor in spirit, the suffering, the meek.  

This faith does not describe a pre-condition, a trigger that releases God’s love. It simply describes how the abyss is to be navigated. The abyss is not overcome by personal strength, or intelligence or capabilities. It is navigated with the assistance of another, the Other. The unconditional love of God is freely given and trustworthy. God’s love gently and surely honours the fragility of the tiniest, faintest threads. Herein lies the kingdom of heaven and the inheritance of the earth.

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