My late father was a beautiful man. He had a gentle heart and a great intellect. He was a lover of art, literature, and science. He could quote all the great poets at will and could engage in heady discussions on advanced mathematics. He was also an artist and I witnessed him painting hundreds of water-colour paintings of the Irish landscape. A landscape with which he had a passionate relationship. He would often stop the car when driving to urge us as children to appreciate some unexpected glory in the sky or across the valleys and mountains. He loved light, and on summer evenings would head off with his brushes and stretched water colour paper under his arm to find some shaft of evening light that would delight his eye. He was a scientist and worked his life as a meteorologist yet he wrote a lot about the interface between science and art.
He was also a man of great faith and, above all else, he would genuflect before his God. He would urge me as a young man “not to lose the Faith”. The faith was an old Irish reference to religion and that God, and was the one constant for so any Irish people through war and famine. It became for many families the standing stone that remained through great suffering. It became a common saying in Irish life to say, at parting from another, “Don’t lose the faith”. In truth, it was an encouragement to persist and not allow life’s adversities defeat you. In fact it was an urge toward the heroic.
I understand Faith as a having a reference point for how to live that lies outside and beyond us. This Faith is a faculty of human imagination and human heroism that allows us to imagine a source of life that calls us forward toward a better future. It is an intuition that is grounded in imagination, sensation, and intuitive connection to Life. It might even be considered our source of Hope – that intuitive conviction that things can and will get better; it is that belief in possibility and resolution.
The rationalist would argue that this ‘faith’ is all imagined and that it is therefore irrational and deluded. However, our imagination is in fact our greatest human faculty and, more than reason, has inspired humanity down the ages. It is our redeeming quality. It is what has enabled us to evolve. Imagination comes before action.
Faith fosters humility. When you can acknowledge your own limitedness and can defer to an imagined source outside yourself, you are less likely to be self-justifying and righteous. The preponderance of people who have this kind of faith strive toward a life of virtue and loving-kindness. Faith can sustain the magical in life, can foster gratitude, and can encourage someone in a relationship to see beyond their partner’s weaknesses and inadequacies to the greater narrative within which they are both set.
When it comes to marriage or relationships having faith means that people realise that life is about more than meeting their own needs. They defer, in a real way, to a bigger truth that can help them understand the source of their needs. It is an awareness and appreciation of how they are also participating in a much larger narrative that includes them, their children, their parents, their siblings, and grandchildren. They can put their problems in a larger context and find creative ways of dealing with them. Faith can foster a lightness of heart. It can help people carry their burdens lightly and develop a sense of humour about their existential predicament.
It is often endearing to witness older couples tease their spouses about their annoying traits with a sense of humour and acceptance that is so contrary to the grave and serious complaining and whinging of their younger counterparts.
Faith can also be the reference point, a source of courage, for people seeking to escape an abusive or toxic relationship. To get free of an abusive relationship takes courage and persistence and people need to draw on a source of inspiration that lies outside of them. This source is not literal. It is as I said, imagined - but to the degree that it is imagined it is psychologically real – so real as to enable a victim of abuse to survive it, a victim of war to stay alive, a victim of tragedy to cling to the very source of life.
I am hoping that you can somehow identify the times in your life when you have drawn the water of courage from a spring within yourself that is connected to a source outside yourself. You will surely realise that, even as an adult, your inner life follows the paths and guideposts you followed as a child. Your inner imagination about who you are and what your purpose may be is a world of imagination and feelings. As you lie in bed as an adult you think and dream in the same way you did as a little boy or girl as your adult thoughts and worries tumble into the unchanged rich inner imagination and landscape you knew as a child. You draw on this feeling. You go to this well and draw from a source that is not of your literal world. You draw from something so much bigger. You go to the well that is filled from the spring that is connected to a great underground river that ultimately falls from the sky that arcs above all of life.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. You can find more articles by Dr. O'Connor in the Evening Echo every Wednesday.