October 2009


It’s Friday night, and I’ve just come home from the Convent of St. Birgitta. I went there to spend two days with a small group of men, to talk about our lives and our faith. Some of us have been meeting together for almost 20 years. There were eight of us that began to meet in 1990 on Thursday mornings every week. Over the years, the composition of the group has changed: some moved away, one died of cancer, another died of alcoholism, others joined the group, and we kept going. We talked about the Bible, we read and discussed books by various spiritual writers, we listened to each others’ stories of accomplishment and of failure, and we prayed for one another.

Eventually, life took us to new challenges in new locations; we were no longer clustered in Manhattan. We scattered to cities as far away as Omaha, Nebraska and Sarasota, Florida. We are no longer able to meet weekly, but once a year we gather at St. Birgitta’s for a retreat. We laugh and break bread together, and we break open again the story of our lives from the year past. As we talk about our health and our families and our work, we circle around our experience of faith. We talk about God.

This is perhaps the most amazing and meaningful aspect of our time together. We each have others in our lives with whom we can talk shop, or complain about aging, or brag about our children. But these are close friends with whom we talk honestly about our personal experiences of faith and of God in the midst of the realities of our lives. Meeting together once a year like this creates an opportunity for each of us to reflect on what we believe, how we live our beliefs, and how our beliefs have changed over time. We share updates on our family albums, our resumes, and our credos (the Latin word meaning “I believe”). We try afresh to say, “This is what I believe at this time in my life”.

It’s a wonderful exercise, to periodically sit down and try to say or write what one believes at a very personal level: not what you think you’re supposed to believe, or what you want others to think you believe, but what you do believe and what you don’t believe, what you’ve newly come to believe and what you no longer believe, what you know for sure and what you seriously doubt, and all the questions and uncertainties you live with. Honesty and questioning play a big part in our sharing.

Our Confirmation Class does this. Over the coming months, we’ll talk a lot about God, Christianity, and the Church. We’ll talk about the spectrum of beliefs found in the Christian church at large. We’ll talk about how faith is nurtured and how it is expressed. We’ll discuss some of the classic creeds of Christianity, and by the time we finish, they will have written their own Credos. They will have made an honest effort to express what they believe at this time in their young lives.

Could you do this for yourself? Can you sit down and write a simple expression of what you believe? It may be harder than you first imagine. How do you think of God? How is God present in the world and in your life? How does God work? Who is Jesus for you? What does being a follower of Jesus look like? What is worship? How do you pray and what does your prayer accomplish? What does God ask of you? How do you nurture your faith? What are God’s intentions for our world, and what is your role in them? Why do we need the church? What is your responsibility for others? Why is there so much suffering in God’s world? What happens when you die? These are few questions you could try to answer for yourself. You may or may not have answers. Our answers are tentative and provisional. We hold our beliefs with humility and with the certainty that there is much we don’t know, much we cannot know. We remain open to new discoveries, new understandings, new experiences, and new opportunities to say “This is what I believe at this time in my life”.