Each year, in preparation for spring, I read this book:
In my practice of both Catholicism and Judaism, I always appreciated the statements of belief that come at the beginning of a mass or service. I like the idea of a gathering of people who very clearly state, up front, what joins them together and what they wish to publicly announce as their main practices and beliefs. It’s a very powerful feeling to be a part of that prayer. The ability to state, with such certainty, these statements of belief that provide the foundations that both define the religion and the basis of the prayers and practices of that religion, requires faith. By repeating these statements, and especially by repeating them as a group, they provide a significant structure of support for those beliefs and practices. But, it isn’t belief that brings that group together. It is faith.
This book by Sharon Salzberg is a profound exploration of what faith is and how it continues to work as a powerful force even when we feel that we have lost it. Although it is written from a Buddhist perspective, or, at the very least, the perspective of a Buddhist, the ideas can be applied to the human condition in general and are not specific to any particular religious practice. Perhaps, a Buddhist exploration of the idea of Faith can be so open precisely because questioning is an important part of Buddhism. Practitioners are told not just to believe, but that they should practice and see what the reality of their own experience is. Not only are you not going to hell for asking the question, but questioning is an integral part of the faith and practice.
Why this book? Why spring?
First, I learned this concept of re-reading certain books at certain times of the year from my mother. Each December, she would sob her way through the New York City subway system reading Charles Dickens’, Christmas Carol. The first time I read Faith it was in the fall and I was drawn to re-read it that spring. It has become my “spring book” and this ritual is part of my spiritual preparation at the end of winter, when I just can’t take one more minute of cold or darkness, to remember that the seeds of spring have been cradled and nurtured deep within the earth the whole time.
Second, I learned to see that our biggest and smallest choices in life reflect our faith on a daily basis from my father. At a speech he gave at my first wedding rehearsal dinner, he expressed the idea that the act of getting married is one that reflects our ability to have hope and faith. If we didn’t feel like we could carry love into the future, we wouldn’t do it. Even with the awareness that marriages fail, the act of getting married reflects a faith that it is also possible that some will not fail. Our ability to have faith in our relationships, even while knowing that the people we love and that love us the most are not perfect and can’t be loving all the time is a spiritual practice. This preparation for spring and considering the role of faith in my relationships, my work, my family and in my own choices is an important ritual that, just as powerful as a statement of belief, helps me to re-gather my spirit after a time of darkness.
Third, the truth is that I start to lose it by the end of winter. The kind of “losing it” that requires more than a new lipstick to feel better. Reading this book on faith reminds me that the seeds of spring have been cradled deep in the earth all winter long. It is only my inability to see the life and to focus only on what is not living that causes my discomfort and un-ease. Within the ground, not even that deep, lie the bulbs we planted this last fall. They are happy and safe in the darkness of the earth, resting all their forces for the burst of life that will come when they feel the sun start to warm the surface. And this, of course, is a wonderful reminder that I can choose my focus and my perspective at any time, in any season and apply this lesson of spring to all the winters of my life.