There is a famous Indian parable called the “blind men and an elephant,” in which a group of blind men encounter an elephant for the first time. The men, who previously couldn’t imagine such a creature, go about exploring what an elephant is by examining various elephant body parts, but each only has access to their part of the elephant.
With this parable we begin to understand the complexity of discussing faith when we’re all just feeling and experiencing our tiny part of the body of faith and can’t see the complex filters that have shaped how others have experienced their faith.
I was reminded of the parable of the “blind men and an elephant” when a reader named Bob, who lives in Maine, wrote to me to say that he’s struggled his entire life with what faith means to him. And, well, much like Bob, I suspect we all have a ways to go toward defining our faith experience, because we’re all stuck with experiencing our own particular piece of the “elephant.” Inspired by Bob’s story, I turned this week to several friends to help me describe their piece of the elephant.
For instance Rabbi Jamie Serber, who I met several years ago when I was completing my clinical pastoral education hours at Sanford Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, shared with me: “Faith is seeing the God spark in my young son while knowing God is creating new life inside of me. … Faith is knowing that humans are capable of radical love for one another and can build a society based on the love which God has promised us.”
Now, that seems like a pretty beautiful description of Rabbi Serber’s piece of the elephant, and it absolutely makes me want to experience more.
Another friend, Ezat Hayder, who is Yazidi and moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, after having served the U.S. Army as an interpreter during the war in Iraq, shared with me this: “Faith is a sentimental relationship and a conscious affiliation of a person with the Universe Ultimate light of God and the reflection of it on our surrounding environment (our daily life). This affection or connection is supported by trust and the hope of achieving our moral and material needs and wishes in that environment."
Ezat has previously shared with me that it can be difficult for Americans to understand what it is to be Yazidi. But after getting to know Ezat for years, and having the opportunity to celebrate his faith with his family, I’m just now understanding his particular piece of the “elephant.” No wonder why we struggle so mightily to accept and understand someone else’s piece of the “elephant!”
Finally, my friend Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez, who I attended seminary with and who is awaiting her first call into ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, described her piece of the “elephant” as such: “In my Lutheran Christian tradition, I name my belief as God, as revealed in (the) Holy Trinity: God, Jesus and Spirit. My faith is in believing that at the very core of every molecule of creation God is and that God is love. My faith believes God as love and love as God live in us while we also live in God. When I sit with my faith in prayer, meditation, writing, scripture and worship, God as love bubbles up within me with delight flowing out into the world.”
And so, I wonder, what does your experience of your faith … er, your piece of the “elephant” ... look and feel like?
Devlyn Brooks, who works for Modulist, a Forum Communications Co.-owned company, is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Church of America. He serves as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minnesota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments and story ideas.