Somewhere along the way we seem to have picked up the notion that belief means intellectual assent to certain propositions and thus that faith is trusting those intellectual agreements. This is rather bloodless and unemotional in addition to being nowhere near the truth. In truth, faith is a thing we do with our life and belief is trusting the one who has shown us the path of life. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
This Sunday is usually Pick On Thomas Sunday or Have More Faith Sunday, it should be Way of Life Sunday instead because Peter quotes psalm 16 and shows us what faith is really like. He’s preaching to the crowd after Jesus’ resurrection and makes a side reference to what God did in David’s life and how that points to Jesus. What we usually miss is the fullness of the psalm to which he is referring.
Most translations start verse 11 with a variation on “you teach me the path of life” which would be great and beautiful if the verb weren’t yada “to know” as in “and Adam knew Eve and she bore a son.” Most precisely, the psalmist is saying “you cause me to know, deeply and intimately, the way/manner/path of living.” All at once this is not some generic, cute aspirational sentiment, it’s a declaration that part of the work of faith is God moving deeply in us, causing us to know life to our fingertips.
And, because I’m going to push this just a bit more, like sexual knowing of another, we have to lower our barriers in order to truly know each other. This kind of knowing requires that we “take our clothes off” and be physically, emotionally, and spiritually naked with God. This nakedness, these lowered barriers are part of gaining this deep and complete knowing God brings into our life through his presence in it.
This sort of defencelessness is absolutely terrifying and so we try to find ways to blunt it through ritual and intellectualization. We live a life of busy nothings and distract ourselves with the ten thousand things but we do not have to. In fact, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection at work n us and in the cosmos, we are able to keep trying. Powered by the passion of the Passion, we come back again and again to God’s invitation to perfect knowing and being known.
No one gets sex right the first, fifth, or even fifty-fifth time but the desire for perfect union, the longing to know the other to their toes keeps us coming back. In the same way, God causes us to know the pathway, the manner of life that leads into deepest life. It takes time, stumbles, ‘I can’t believe I just did/said that’ laughter, and a willingness to be foolishly loving, but that is part of faith.
And what stands at the end of it? “In your presence is satiation with joy, in your right hand, delights for always” (personal translation) The Hebrew word for presence is literally “face” thus the presence of God is the place where we are close enough to share breath. The right hand too is a sign of intimacy. There is no way to take someone by the hand from a distance. When we do ballroom dance, we take each other by the hand and enter what’s called the “dancer’s frame.”
This intimate position allows the two to communicate by subtle pressure and hand movement while at the same time conversing and dancing. If the frame is too loose or the dancers aren’t paying attention, they will not dance well. When they are close and attuned to each other, when the frame is tight and intimate, then we dance.
It is this bodily, visceral intimacy that is the substance of the faith we berate Thomas for not having enough of and that’s really sad. The disciples didn’t believe Mary when she said “I have seen the LORD!” Thomas didn’t believe the other disciples when they said “We have seen the LORD!” It was only once they had a direct, visceral experience of Jesus that they believed.
It was in the intimate knowing of him, the close enough to share breath experience of him, that they found themselves dancing with “his right hand holding me close.” That is the intimate faith to which we are invited this day through the resurrection power of Jesus.