Saturday, November 2, 2013

Maturing in the Faith

Levels of religious faith are many. First, it is with the legs, then with the head, and finally with the heart. With these words a novelist begins her article in the Kyeongyang magazine, discussing a book that gave her a deeper appreciation of her faith.

One can be a faithful church-goer, she says, and suddenly be filled with doubt and troubling questions such as What is it that I believe?  Does God really exist? Questions usually followed by a decision to stop going to church. Looking over her religious life, she muses whether that wasn't partially true with her. She became acquainted with God and Jesus at an early age, and became close to the Catholic Church. She read many books, read the Scriptures and memorized favorite lines, made frequent retreats, and felt great peace.

Remembering those days she feels personal pride might have been present. Talking to  parishioners and hearing what they said God did for them--how  they were blessed with money and material things--religion suddenly seemed to her more like a search for material blessings, then it did about God and Jesus, so she began to have doubts.

Why wasn't God answering her prayers? Was her faith weak?  Did she have only a superficial acquaintance with the Scriptures? These were the questions that she was asking herself. Is asking for blessings what religion is all about? The God she believed in and loved unconditionally, was, she was sure, just and bountiful with his blessings. But the reality she saw was quite different. She came to the conclusion, much later in life, that the way she believed was tainted with pride.

One day, she happened to come across a book in her possession that she had read many years before. The book, written by the first Swedish woman to receive the Nobel prize, Selma Largerlof, was titled The girl from the Marsh Croft.  She began to read the short story  again; the plot follows:

There was a young girl, Helga, who was very poor and living in a marsh area of the country.  Her father was  sick. The girl found work in the landowner's house as a servant. The owner found the girl attractive and one night forced himself on her and she had a child. The wife of the landowner noticed she was pregnant, and chased her away. She went back to her home and had the baby boy. 

Now back to her life of poverty and with a child, everything got worse for Helga, and so she went to the landowner and asked him to support the child. When he denied all knowledge of the affair, she began legal proceedings against him. On the day the judge was to give the verdict, the court room was filled with spectators.  When the judge asked the landowner to put his hand on the bible and swear that what he was about to say was the truth, Helga cried out from her seat:  "Your honor, I can't bear to see the father of my child lie to God, I withdraw my case."  And she quickly left the court room. 

The court room quickly filled with commotion, and the judge, an old man, quieted the crowd and said: "I have worked for many years in deciding what is right and what is wrong. But this is the first time I have felt so great a happiness. "  You could see tears in the eyes of the silvered-haired judge, and the court room became extremely quiet. 

The feeling the novelist had during her second reading was different from the first reading. Religious faith, she realized, is not of the head but of the heart. Her faith had gone from her feet to her head, and now gropingly arrived at the heart.  When she prayed in the morning, she felt a shiver in her body, realizing that God was within her. Both when she prayed or did some good work, she was confident that it was God that was acting. And overcome with this knowledge she wept with joy. She remembered that God chose the weak, the sick and the deficient--the thought brought her peace.


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