A HOPEFUL DOUBT: A Zen priest considers Faith and Engagement

A HOPEFUL DOUBT: A Zen priest considers Faith and Engagement June 3, 2020

I was recently contacted by a podcaster who wanted to gather a few faith leaders’ thoughts on current events and how faith fits into the matter, or doesn’t. I thought it does. And said sure.

The text that follows is mostly what I said for the podcast. However, I then recorded a somewhat more expanded version a tad more specifically grounded in Zen.

I offer both…


James Ishmael Ford

I’m among those who’ve found it necessary to untangle the words faith and belief.

In English they tend to be used for the same purpose, to describe one’s confidence in something greater than us, you and me.

Often without evidence.

I let the word belief stand for that kind of relationship with religion and the divine. The “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” sort of spirituality.

That is not my spirituality. And I reserve the word faith for what I find on my way. For one thing my faith is bound up with doubt.

I feel the doctrines and spiritual texts of my tradition point me toward some deep and true things. But, only provisionally.

I engage them. Like Jacob and that long night, I wrestle with this mystery. In my spiritual life I have several spiritual practices, but the chief among them is a practice of presence. I try to notice, what is happening around me, and what is happening with me. And, I try to be slow to bring judgment to these things.

First, witness. Then engage. Then reflect. And, well, it continues. Hopefully a virtuous cycle.

So, if we call belief a noun, a static thing, then for me faith is a verb, it demands engagement. It demands that wrestling. I think of this wrestling as a hopeful doubt.

And, this hopeful doubt has taken me to places where I find you and I are connected. We are in some last analysis one family. We are like that wonderful robe of destiny that Dr King described wrapping all of us.

And it shows me what we do with each other counts.

So, in this moment, this sad and hard moment, this moment with much that can follow, good or ill; that engaged faith helps me know where I need to stand. And, it tells me how I need to engage.

I hope this is helpful.

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