I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently as Lent approached about my relationship with, and understanding of faith, and of the role of religion. We’ve been studying the secularisation thesis in regard to modernity across all Abrahamic traditions as well which has given me pause for thought to ask ‘Why is there still religion? Why is it still important?’. I’m aware that these are very deep and personal questions to which we all must find our own answers, and what follows are just a few of my thoughts about why I find Christianity to still be a relevant force in my life, even when I’m not sure I can assent or connect to its beliefs.
- Religion has an important element of self-examination, of self-reflection. Every morning saying Matins Christians pray for a day that is to be holy and good, and every evening at Vespers we reflect upon the day, seeing the places where we could have said more, done more, thought more. These times help us to be more conscious of how we act, how we treat other people, in a world that can sometimes feel to be utterly self-absorbed, where people live for the moment not for the consequence, we take time out to think, and to aspire for better.
- There is room (indeed even expectation) for failure. We set the standards so impossibly high through our aspiration to live as Christ did. We cannot ever hope to attain the Christlike nature in its entirety, we cannot all be living saints all of the time. We are bound to be caught up in the world, to not always be the seed that fell on good ground, to sometimes be that which is on the path, or on the rock, or amongst the weeds. But that’s okay. The exhortation to ‘go from here and sin no more’ is a hope, not a certainty. We acknowledge our sins, whether large or small, and then resolve to start afresh, aware that we will in all likeliness fail again, and again, and again. But God’s grace can lift us back up.
- Even when you can’t find God, when He is so far away that the words of the Creed, the receiving of the Sacrament, the Absolution feels hollow and meaningless, we are upheld by the community around us. I once felt like I was the only one in a Church congregation feeling doubt, feeling unworthy, because everyone else seemed so pious, saying the words, doing the actions. But then I realised that really, most people have doubts, most people would want to cross their fingers at points in the service, to whisper into what feels like an empty void. And that’s okay, because (as I was once memorably told), those in the congregation and the clergy who do sense something of the divine presence can say ‘we have faith enough for you’
- Sure religion can seem dogmatic, formulaic, institutionalised. But having the constant and unerring rhythm, the daily cycle of prayer can also be immensely freeing, a chance to escape a hectic world and focus your mind only upon the words you are reading, singing or hearing, even if you don’t fully agree with or find comfort in them. A frantic soul is calmed, we are given the chance to breathe and live with gratitude for what we have, not seeking blindly and ruthlessly what we do not have. Deo Gratias!