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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

The Breath of Life | June 9, 2024 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton

Updated: Jul 11



There seems to be a valid distinction between belief and faith. Often we think of belief as having to do exclusively with a body of ideas, notions, concepts, and the like. But is it not that aspect of belief that is always decisive in living. There is a simpler definition of belief that carries with it a meaning well within the experience of all who live: A person’s belief is what that person does and practices. It is no mere matter of the mind and its assent… it is the inner consistency of a person’s basic behavior.


There is nothing accidental or incidental about beliefs. They determine and yet are determined by the set of a person’s spirit. Out of the deep places of a person’s heart flow the issues by which the person lives. The issues…are deeply “qualitied” by the things the person does with consistency.


On the other hand, faith has an element that is given. It seems to have no beginning and no ending. It does not spring from sources that are under the control of the individual nor responsible to a person’s life. Faith gathers in its sweep the life of the human being, as indeed all that lives and informs it with overtones of hope and anticipations of the future. It holds within its grasp the past and the future as a single moment in time…Faith envelops life and charges it with energy that sustains and holds. It is the breath of God that becomes in all living things the breath of Life.

 

The opening words are, in part, from meditation number eight in Howard Thurman’s book, The Inward Journey. This quote was suggested by Rosemary McGuire to be read at last week’s service honoring the life of Elaine Stolp. Unfortunately, I could not find it in time to be read last week, but I went back to read it. I was profoundly struck by these two concepts, belief and faith, and how much they spoke to the life of Elaine. She lived her life with an integrity that was rare. Her beliefs were indeed carried out in her living…with consistency. They were a response to the current demands of her living. Her underlying faith was very much apparent in the way she dealt with issues of suffering and life and death. Her enduring hope for the future was clear evidence of the breath of Life at work.

 

This distinction made by Thurman between belief and faith is something that I have been challenged by in my study of more effective counseling techniques. It has been said that beliefs are something that we can examine…they are not ‘set in stone’. They can change as needed in response to what Thurman calls, the current demands of one’s life. The quality of these beliefs rests upon an inner consistency…the things one does with consistency. In the counseling relationship, this means that we can examine a person’s beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs are based on past experiences and are not a response to the current demands. This could mean that our beliefs need updating. Faith is something different. Rarely spoken about directly in the field of psychology, faith is, I think, closely connected to our breath…to the body. We live by the automatic processes of the body…the autonomic nervous system, the circulatory system, the endocrine system, the respiratory system. It is now being broadly recognized that these systems…these processes are deeply connected to our mental health… and our general well-being. Of course, this is something that has been recognized by spiritual teachers and mystics (like Howard Thurman) for a long time. Take, for example, the Whirling Dervishes of Sufism that inspired the music by the opening artist, Sina Bathaie. Here is a glimpse of this powerful practice:

 


 

This practice started as a form of meditation by Jalaluddin Rumi, the famous Sufi Muslim mystic and poet, in the 13th century. Of course, meditation/contemplation has been a way for people to be more in touch with the breath of God and therefore the breath of life throughout the history of humanity! It turns out that this same connection is what psychologists and others are using to heal people’s wounds…past trauma and current reminders of that trauma. In so doing, they are uncovering these outmoded beliefs and connecting people to their authentic selves. This connection promotes healing and wholeness.


Another Sufi mystic, Hafiz writes:

 

Dance, dervish dance –

Bring the face of God before you.

Only Love can lift the heart up so high

That its true Color is restored by the Sun!

See Him near and clapping,

That Perfect One who fathers Divine Rhythm.

O dance, dervish dance,

And know you bring your Master happiness

Whenever you smile.

Last night,

So many tears took flight because of Joy

That the sky got crowded and complained

When I discovered God hiding again in my heart

And I could not cease to celebrate.

O dance, Hafiz, dance.

Write a thousand luminous secrets

Upon the wall of Existence

So that even a blind man will know

Where we are,

And join us in this Love!

Dance, dervish dance –

Bring the Face,

O bring the Face of your Beloved

Before you!

 

This is a powerful and poetic illustration of the process that has been bringing people to themselves for such a long time. Lest we think that this is something that belongs only to the Sufi tradition, the following is a Native American ceremony performed by prison inmates:



 

Imagine if this were a part of the rehabilitation in our entire prison system, rather than a rare occurrence! It is a way to envelop life and charge it with energy that sustains and holds…a way to strengthen an element that is given…that has no beginning and no ending…that holds within its grasp the past and the future as a single moment in time. 


Back to the breath…this powerful tool that each of us has at our disposal at every minute of every day. We can use it to re-calibrate those automatic systems in the body, thereby regulating our mental state as well. My teacher in this work was Russill Paul, a Kundalini Yoga practitioner. He taught me what was called the Awareness Exercise that is now widely used. It is known as a Body Scan. Here is an example:




 

This is something that I use for myself and my clients on a regular basis. It allows us to connect to that faith within…the givenness of God that gathers in its sweep the life of the person…indeed all that lives, and informs it with overtones of hope and anticipations of the future. It does not need to be proven or demonstrated…it just is. As long as we are able to connect to this power, there is the hope of the tree…the hope of healing…the hope that sustains and holds us in its embrace. May we each experience this through our relationships with each other, with ourself and with the Divine within. May we learn ways to examine our beliefs so that we can respond to the current demands of life and act with integrity, responsibility and consistency. May we connect with the given within the altar of the soul, lay down our burden and study war no more.




 

 

 

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