3 February 2006

Faith and Learning, Fear and Ignorance

David J. Goa

Faith is a disposition of the mind. The opposite of faith is not doubt or unbelief. The opposite of faith is fear. Faith opens our mind to the love of learning and the desire for God. Fear extends the precincts of ignorance, the circles of darkness.

Fear is a disposition of the mind. The mind withdraws and hides behind ancient wounds, forgotten wars; hides behind worn-out assumption, prejudice. It retreats to the closets of ignorance and casts a spell on all human relationships. But "perfect love casts out fear."

Faith is a disposition of the mind: the mind wholly alert, attentive and open to what is longing to be understood and revealed in and through your experience and encounter in the midst of God's extraordinary creation.

The discipline of faith is not argument. It is prayer. Prayer is attention, regard. That is the liturgy is a also a learning laboratory, a school of the soul as the ancients loved to put it. Here your mind and heart is drawn forth to speak along with Biblical texts. Here the wounds and gifts of others may be heard. Prayer is attention and we are invited to listen, invited to hear. "Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."

Faith, learning and understanding walk hand in hand. They cannot be separated. They are not pitted against each. You cannot have one if you do not have the other. It is a maxim of the Christian faith both ancient and modern that all knowledge, all real knowledge is of God. But what to make of our knowledge? It is for us to discern how to use knowledge. Do we use knowledge to push back the circles of darkness and despair in a fragile world? Do we use it to deepen alienation and fear? The one is in Jesus Christ who "holds all things together." The other is the work of the rumormonger.

Faith frees us to learn without fear of complexity and mystery, without fear of ambiguity. Learning frees us to act so that we can learn from our actions and more effectively act for the blessing and healing of the world. Each of us is called to cast out devils as Jesus does in a number of the Gospel narratives. Devils come in all forms: mental, spiritual, physical, social, cultural. There is no shortage. But we will only serve darkness if our mind and heart are seized by the fear of these "principalities and powers."

When we awaken to the faith that is in us our minds open to receive the grace present in all the ordinary and unusual situations of our daily life. It is then that we step onto the path of knowledge seeking the skills and capacity of discernment and judgment so we may know what is life giving. Each persons came into the world with the disposition of faith. It was God's first gift to us. It is the energy of our mind. Each of us is called to lay hold of it. Claim it and you will join the legion of scientists, scholars, servants and saints who with the Apostle come to say:

"be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Amen.


An initial form of this reflection was a homily in a series titled "Did you bring your faith to University" at the Augustana Campus Chapel, University of Alberta.