07/15/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

Faith as a Way

In my Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious tradition, we tend to engage in our faith as a way and not as a belief or an end unto itself. For me, faith is a process; it's a path in life. It's how I live, and hope and engage with the people and challenges that I encounter.

Because faith isn't synonymous with belief for most UU's, it means that when I talk about God, or another person talks about embracing life, or another talks about finally finding the way forward after a tough run through whatever makes the ego twinge -- that we all mean roughly the same thing. I don't mean to say that when everyone talks about God all they mean is life embracing life. Some people have a different religion than me -- in fact most people do. But when we talk about God in our congregations, at our core, we're talking about connecting to the Holy. Not defining the Holy. Not building neat fences around the Holy. Not having tedious arguments about the specificity of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We're talking about getting past our heads, into our hearts, and relating to that which is beyond merely our singular selves.

Faith is not about our individual growth only. Although it does mean that too. Faith is not about thinking big thoughts only. Faith is about finding ourselves again; helping our neighbor do the same; and trying to figure out how together we might heal the places of brokenness in our lives and the world around us. Faith demands that we keep a place for hope and meaning at our center.

I'm at the center of my story, but I know there are a lot of centers all around me going through all their stories. I choose to find meaning in that. I choose to find value in all our connections. Faith asks us to value our relationships over our opinions. It teaches us that community transcends the ego. And contrary to popular usage, I would say that faith is the opposite of belief because belief is rooted in the ego. I get a little edgy when folks want to pin my views down for careful examination; as if one's views must be static to be authentically religious. I know the pins don't do well for the butterflies on a wall, and they're rough on spirituality as well. Not because the light of reason proves our faith wrong, but because too much intense heat will wither any plant.

This is the tension between our intellectual side, and the deep-felt need for many of us to encounter a real spiritual passion. I prefer to err on the side of not drying people out. So I tend to preach about what we mean; what we're pointing toward -- and not get caught up in the details. To be honest, details that in other faith traditions would be of immortal importance.

My view is this: we can talk about what exactly is going on when a congregation gathers for prayer after a time of silence. Calling out names held in our hearts; lighting candles in chapels, or sitting in meditation. We can talk about it, or we can experience it. We can't do both. And the reality is that in most religious traditions, regardless of what the exact creed professed is, each person will engage with those views differently. It's unrealistic to think any two people believe the exact same thing and understand those beliefs in the exact same way anyway.

I feel that belief is outside the map that faith draws. Faith is our drive; it's how we live, how we love, and how we dream -- the rest are details. Details that have changed a lot over my life, and I imagine will continue to change. But how I live, love and dream -- I hope that continues to deepen throughout my days. As Scriptures will say, "This is the day we are given, let us rejoice and be glad in it." For me, that's the core of faith right there. A very hard tenet to follow all the time.