About a year ago a friend of mine, Jean Eng, had an art show in Toronto. Her promotional postcard showed a painting of a large spectacular bird landing on a tiny potted bonsai, and the words of a Chinese proverb: If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come. Something about the words hit home, made my chest ache and my breath catch. And I thought, "This is my statement of faith."
Faith is different than hope or belief. Hope is generally future oriented and often specific. When I'm ill in bed I hope I'll feel better tomorrow, and I believe that that is more likely if I take care of myself in ways that seemed to have worked in the past. I have hope we can foster peace, justice and environmental sustainability, and I believe that both individual and collective reflection and action are crucial to achieve these ends. Sometimes we need hope just to get out of bed in the morning, and although beliefs about what we need to do (or not do) change with information and circumstances, it would be hard to take any action without them.
But faith is different. Faith is about the ground we stand on in every present moment, regardless of changing conditions, no matter what hopes or evolving beliefs have our attention today. Faith is the green bough in the heart, the thing in us that chooses life with every breath, even when we have lost hope or feel our beliefs have failed us. Faith is our connection to life, to the sacred, the mystery, the spark of creation. As the proverb reminds us, our business is to keep a green bough at the centre of our being, to know and provide that which cultivates our felt connection to life, the people, places and practices that help us say yes to the gift of this day.
And what might the singing bird be? A guiding song from something larger than us, or from deep within ourselves. The tune that helps each of us become all of who we are. Sheer joy. However we describe it, it is what we ache for, and it comes by grace. We do not make the singing bird come, we simply provide a place where it can land and sing its song. Our business is to keep the faith- to cultivate the green bough.
The primary way I cultivate the green bough of my heart is by writing. It's how I respond to, pray for, struggle with and co-create meaning from what crosses my path. It's how I mull over the mystery and work out how to live with the vastness of what I do not know. Sharing my writing, helps me keep writing, supports me in keeping the bough of my heart green.
So, this is the first of a year long commitment to posting a weekly blog. I will write about what stirs, confuses, guides, excites and challenges me. I may write about books I am reading, movies I have seen, world news, personal encounters or spiritual practices. I write as an act of faith, trusting that those who read may, on occasion, find something here that helps them tend the green boughs of their hearts. I write because I am most alive when I write and I can feel the truth in the words of the American philosopher and civil rights activist Howard Thurman when he wrote: