Shaky Faith & Steadfast Love

To be faithful is not an easy thing. I learned this early at the age of nine or so.

I was a Girl Scout, a very marginal Girl Scout. Well, in all honesty, I was a lousy Girl Scout. My uniform would never quite pass muster. There was always stuff to be sewn on that wasn’t: troop numbers and patrol badges. And I never quite got with the program. I hated camping and when no one was looking, I would sneakily switch assignments with my troop members. (Let me gather wood any day, but no way, Jose, was I going to do latrine duty.)

I never got past the intro in my handbook and I barely completed the most basic of requirements. I was not even good at selling cookies and Girl Scout cookies sell themselves! At award ceremonies, the other scouts’ sashes testified to their success: decorated with a veritable rainbow of ribbons and patches and pins. Mine, not so much.

My commitment was shaky. My loyalty questioned to the Scouts and Troop 4111. “Make up your mind, Joani, do you want to be a Girl Scout or not?” Mrs. Lockwood, the troop leader, challenged me.

Silly as the this example seems, at nine years old, I had made a choice to belong to something bigger than myself. To an organization that had lofty ideals. Where I could make friends, learn things, make a difference — hopefully without too much effort on my part.

And then I found, good as the Girl Scout oath sounded, I was not up to the task. I didn’t have it in my heart to be a very good Girl Scout. I didn’t have the chutzpah to be faithful to this greater cause.

Now most of us know that the BIG decisions of our lives are made in the little choices we make everyday. Not just once for all when we walk down the aisle, become parents, start a new job. But every morning, as we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Every day, as we navigate the world. Every night, sleeplessly tossing and turning in our beds, agonizing over rights and wrongs.

Faith is not a no-brainer. Faith in the big things requires faith in the little things. Staying present in the present, in the here and now, and over the long haul. Honest to God faithfulness, on earth as it is in heaven, is a pretty rocky road.

The cost of discipleship is easy to pay when things are going our way. But not so easy when things get tough. And in the 1st century, things got really, really tough at the Church in Corinth.

Saint Paul’s parishioners began to scatter. Their faith began to fracture. And Paul, their pastor, encouraged them to persevere in conditions we could hardly imagine:

“in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.”

Try to stay true when that is the last thing you want to do. And how did Paul implore the Corinthians to respond?

“by purity, knowledge, patience, truthful speech, kindness, holiness of spirit, and genuine love.”

Let me repeat that:

“by purity, knowledge, patience, truthful speech, kindness, holiness of spirit, and genuine love.”

Keeping faith, I believe is best lived out together. Together, you, me, and everyone knit together in the Body of Christ. Some the head, some the heart, some the hands, some the eyes, some the ears, some the feet. Together, we can draw the world closer to God’s saving embrace. Together, in the face of adversity. Together, wandering in the wilderness.

Let me tell you the story of Herta — a story I read once upon a time in The Christian Century — and I paraphrase here.

Herta Jantzen was the wife of a medical missionary, sent on a mission of mercy to India. The family ended up living, just as those they served, in a hovel in Calcutta, a veritable nightmare of a home. This was a calling not of her own choosing, so when their time was up, Herta was very grateful to go back home. Back to the comforts of stateside suburbia.

At a welcome-back dinner party, folks had lots of questions about their work and where they lived. “Did you have a nice house in India?” a friend asked. Before Herta could answer, her eight year old replied: “We had a great house in Calcutta!”

What! Herta had thought of writing a “Hints from Heloise” guidebook about how to cope on the mission front. How to deal with cockroaches, mice and rats, torn screens and broken window panes, bats flying through the dining room during dinner, blown fuses, broken water pipes, power outages, and toilet stoppages. What made her eight year old think it was so nice?

Herta looked back on all the houses they had lived in: their first apartment in the city, their house in the suburbs where their children were born, little place in the country. Homes filled with loving memories.

But she realized that as a family, they had their finest hours in Calcutta They played games and read books. They talked, listened, learned, and sang. They had constant guests. It was also a time of peace, silence, love and service to the poor. A place and time from which they often longed to leave — especially when things turned hopeless. But for the time being, in faith, they chose to stay.

“Yes,” Herta says, “We did have a nice house in Calcutta. In fact, it was a fantastic house. It was our home.”  

Blessedly, their time was temporary and Herta and her family got to go home. Consider the level of faith of doctors and nurses and medical personnel battling Covid-19 in India right now. A mind-boggling faith to their calling that has claimed considerable lives.

(Equally true and present, of course, found in the dedication, service, and loss of so many in the medical profession here in the U.S.)

A news article in Saturday’s Washington Post tells the story:

The dead include an orthopedic surgeon in his 60s and an obstetrician in his 20s. They include community doctors who examined patients with their first symptoms, and specialists who worked around-the-clock in covid-19 hospital wards, trying to save gravely ill victims.

Across India, hundreds of doctors have died in the new wave of coronavirus infections that has ravaged the country. The Indian Medical Association this week confirmed the covid-related deaths of 515 physicians since March, publishing their names and pictures. The group previously reported that 748 doctors had died because of the virus in 2020.

Two deaths in the city of Hyderabad last week highlighted the dedication of several generations of India’s medical doctors. Avinash Subhedar and his wife, Shobha, both retired general practitioners in their 70s, died within days of each other after contracting the virus. They had remained at home during the surge but agreed to receive patients, exposing themselves to infection.

“I lost both my parents in the same week. It is devastating, but the relief is that they both died,” said their daughter Shweta, 37. “If only one had died, it would have been very difficult for the other.”

This is what faith looks like. Staying put, stepping out, standing up for love of neighbor when every fiber of your being tells you to run away. I am awed by such faith and very much doubt myself capable of it. How can it possibly be?

Well, the Christian explanation is the only one that makes sense to me, is that our God knows what it means to be in a god-forsaken place. God knows fear and loneliness, sickness and sorrow – even unto death. His knees tremble, his heart breaks. Embracing all the frailty and failures of humanity, God stoops down low to lift us up and walk beside us in this mess.

So, today as we leave church and shakily step out in faith, let’s give this a try (as the bulletin cover proclaims): Let’s head out into the world this week – as best we can – “acting in such a manner that we are living proof of a loving God.”


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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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