What is Faith?
It was a spring day in my youth, the first day of the season in fact. A small gathering of my neighborhood friends and I ventured down to the creek hidden along the backside of the forest, our favorite commonground. At the best spot, a great tree that had fallen across the rushing water, bringing its roots and the earth with it. The dirt at its base became the mountain we all wished to climb. I stood at the bottom of the roots, no older than ten, ready to bear the mountain before me, eager to climb, knowing the top would bring me a desire never quite felt before. I ran up the dirty, mangled treeside and reached the top, my hands and nails caked in mud from the struggle. I stood at the peak, the spring sun rushing over my small body. A warmth I hadn’t felt all winter. And yet, here I stood, basking in its glory. This is what comes to mind when I think of faith.
Webster’s Dictionary explains faith as an allegiance to a duty or person, or a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The Bible explains it as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen in Hebrews 11:1. But I don’t think it is that simple. It is not a word that can be described in a one-sentence definition. It is abstract, it is intangible. It is subjective and it is existential. Yet, it is ordinary and common, at times. It’s more than just a word to many and something others want nothing to do with. It has torn apart nations and unified masses of people. So why is it something that we all must come to terms with at some point? Why is it such a guiding light in our lives whether we choose to follow it or not? Faith can be more than just spiritual; it is an essential part to a fulfilling life, a life worth living.
But who am I to determine that?
Faith has been a rocky road for me. From growing up Catholic to becoming nearly atheist in the past year, all while questioning my sexuality for my entire life, faith comes in many forms. I’ve had intense, emotional encounters with faith. I’ve had cold, distant encounters as well. So what does the word mean to me?
In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you. I’m still figuring it out and I am far from the finish line. When I had started writing the first draft of this piece, I detailed what faith is and isn’t, pulling bits and pieces from my own life, but lacking any direction. At times, I took a commanding tone, a righteous tone, something that I despise. Yet, I swung hard with it. In fear of not knowing? In a panic of not producing something good enough? Who knows. Once I recognized this, I took a step back and dug deep, staring at the title of this piece for many long moments. What is faith? What is faith? I said it in my head a billion times. Then, the question began to take different forms in my jumbled brain. What does faith look like? What gives me faith? Who do I have faith in? And then I began to wonder, what if faith doesn’t need to be defined? Instead, what does faith help us define in our lives? And so, this piece will not tell you what is and isn’t faith, rather where I see faith most in my life, or even a lack of it, the presence and absence of faith, if you will.
Let’s start with the story at the beginning of this piece. I was ten. I was naive. I had never questioned my trust in Jesus or God or even Catholicism. It was the lifestyle I was born into and raised in. I knew of nothing else. Yet, standing on those tree roots is still a vivid memory. Why? An old teacher of mine once said that we only remember significant moments in our lives, the reasons behind them often unknown. After recalling that spring day recently, I have begun to learn of its importance. It was one of the first times I had had faith in myself, a sort of independence. I had reached that small summit alone. Who knew this would mark a series of struggles I would go about alone, yet triumph in, each one making me stronger for the next? A faith in myself was created and grew.
I remember watching Remember the Titans with my brothers growing up, many, many times. To the point of being able to almost quote it. In short, this film was about a football team in the Deep South struggling to bridge the discrimination of race in order to create a winning and bonded group of friends. Though I know the movie ends happily, the climax of the film, when the quarterback is paralyzed in a car accident, always worries me. Will the team recover? Will the Titans persevere? And they do. They continue on, bonded through a shared experience of grief, struggle, and dedication to one another. The classic underdog story, something we are all familiar with. Growing up playing sports, there were tough games where the outlook didn’t look bright, yet we came out on top, with just a little grit. We’ve all felt this a little, watching the Superbowl, even the finale of American Idol. A humanly bonded faith, per se.
It was a sunny, unusually warm day back in early November of 2020. A tough year was almost over. I was fortunate enough to have survived months of a pandemic and have family do the same (though many others had not, and may they rest easy). There was a month left in school and Thanksgiving was almost here, though I think I was already listening to Christmas music. Yet, anxiety rushed through my body. The entire country was waiting on the election results: Biden or Trump. This was my first presidential election that I could vote in, and a monumental one at that. I was upstairs cleaning my room, if I recall correctly, when I heard my mother yelp from downstairs at the television, her heavy footsteps rushing to turn the television louder. I swooped downstairs as my phone notifications exploded, my friends typing in all caps “BIDEN WON, PA IS BLUE.” On the television, celebrations of people in the streets covered the screen, and other countries congratulated the new President-Elect. A feeling of hope and relief rushed over my body. The Tiktoks of people celebrating in the streets of New York still bring me joy to this day. A faith in change and hope.
And even with these little fleeting bits of faith in my life, I have felt the absence of it more often that I’d care to admit. Watching my oldest brother break down in tears at my Grammy’s funeral. Seeing a truck driver passing by our Black Lives Matter protest on the side of a road, cursing and then spitting on us. Learning of Indigenous children’s bodies being found in abandoned schools in Canada. It all pains me and makes me wonder a question that we all toggle at least once in our heads. If God is so good, if we have faith in God, why do They let bad things happen? I am certainly not qualified to answer that, nor would I have any idea where to start. I don’t think anyone would or could.
Despite all of this, I am not sure where faith has a place in my beliefs and spirituality. In my last piece “Joseph and the Rainbow Coat: How Pride Month and Faith Can Coexist and Heal,” I mention that my spiritual faith had wavered tremendously as I had come to terms with my sexuality, thinking I could not believe in God and be gay at the same time. Rather, my own reconnection with my faith in a slow manner has helped me realize how personal faith really can be. My own faith, as I detailed in my last piece, resembles that of Jesus and I sitting on a porch swing together on a warm summer evening, sipping some cold iced tea. We do not speak, but simply enjoy each other’s company. And I have found that other people’s ideas of faith vary from my own. The Titans see it on the football field, others find it spending time with their families, others find it in the most trying of times. I’ve met those who vocally claim to love Jesus yet every action is filled with hate and scorn. I’ve met others who are passive in their relationship with God, or don’t have one at all, and are the kindest souls alive. This makes me understand something significant in my findings of faith: not all forms of faith are spiritual, yet faith seems to be a core value within us all, deeply personal, subjective, and unique. Isn’t that beautiful?
Therefore, I think faith is a foundation of humanity. A hope that we can be better, and a confidence that we will, though times may seem dark. Whether you find faith within God Themself, family, music, movies, or anything else, it is important to hold onto it, to make it the roots of a tree in which you climb and learn and succeed upon. Faith will be a foundation for the next pieces I write here. I will ask you to question, to inspect, to understand, to mend, to find your faith, whether in religion or in a classic football film. No matter the source, the roots remain the same: faith is what binds the human experience, and what encourages us to keep going.