As a textbook example of a wild youth, I have tried to block out most of my teenage years. But I have a vivid memory of a night my first year of college, working by the glow of my computer while my roommate slept. I had left a paper for my Western Civ seminar until the last minute and was plugging away.
The assignment had been to write on any of the texts that we had read so far, and I decided that I would write on the intended audience of the Gospel of Matthew. At this point I still had no idea that I would be a theology minor or go on to work in theology (although all the signs were there – at fifteen I had decided to write a 12-page term paper on Mormonism). I was up late into the night reading and writing, and what I remember most clearly is that I didn’t want to stop: I was in love with what I was doing and I wanted to do it right.
This morning I discovered that the Gospel for today is the Markan version of the woman with a hemorrhage, which I spent the better part of a recent semester researching and writing on that passage for a course on the Gospel of Mark. Frankly, I’m all set with it (and it is very likely I will never ever hear a homily on it that satisfies me). There are two things that stick out in my recollections of that time: learning more than I ever expected to about the ritual purity texts of Leviticus, and grappling with the phrase “Your faith has saved you”.
I don’t know what faith is.
I’m Catholic enough to believe it’s more than just a feeling or an internal disposition. It’s a response to the world and to the call of God. I have had it long enough to know what a blessing it is. Just the other day I marveled that I was blessed with this virtue of faith. Heaven knows there are enough virtues I lack. It’s definitely not mere rational assent. Our reason is too narrow a slice of who we are for that to be the whole story of devotion.
The woman with the hemorrhage has the courage to reach out, and despite my other misgivings with the story that image consoles me. Maybe faith is in the act of reaching – not in the finding, but in the seeking.
Yeats famously stated that the purpose of education is not to fill a bucket but to light a fire, and I was surprised by the heat of that fire on that night when I was 17, in a dorm room clacking away at my desktop computer. Already a music major I followed the light of that second spark to a minor in Scripture, and have continued to indulge both of those passions ever since.
So much of my life has been about paying attention, closing my eyes and going where I am led. Paying attention to the voice of God (or of Love, or true reality, or the infinite loveliness, or whatever you want to call it) has brought me to where I am and has helped me keep my integrity. Whether called in a shout or a whisper I have reached out to the future and done my best to surrender.
That may be faith. It is certainly what has saved me.