Saturday, April 5, 2014

Finding Scope for Faith Begun

Come and find the quiet center
In the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter,
Find the frame where we are freed;
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
Clear our eyes that we can see
All the things that really matter,
Be at peace, and simply be.

This hymn by Shirley Erena Murray is in the Invitation section of The Faith We Sing, a supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal. It's to one of my favorite tunes, Beach Spring, but I also love the lyrics and their expression of God's grace.

In The Faith We Sing, Invitation is a subsection within Grace, but in the United Methodist Hymnal, it's more specific: Invitation is a subsection within Prevenient Grace. What I love about "Come and Find the Quiet Center,' though, is that I can also read it as a hymn of justifying or sanctifying grace, not just prevenient grace. The first verse, which I quoted above, is more on the prevenient side, with the call to come and find, but the last line is very lasting. Be at peace, and simply be.

I won't quote the full second verse, but here are my favorite lines:
God it is who speaks and names us
Knows our being, touches base
Finding scope for faith begun

In a lot of ways the second (and third) verses are more along the sanctifying lines than prevenient ones, but I think the classification of this hymn under Invitation is correct, and maybe even important. God it is who speaks and names us, knows our being, touches base. God always knows us, for God speaks us and names us. It doesn't matter to what extent we know God; God knows us, and God cares about us. What can be more inviting than that? What better represents the idea that God pours out grace upon us before we ever come to God? Finding scope for faith begun leans more towards justifying grace, but what's really significant about that line is that it's God who is finding scope for our faith. When there's just a seed within us, God is finding room for more.

From the Merriam Webster definition of 'scope,' the scope of our faith is first of all its intention, its object. God has a plan for us and for our faith. When we live in faith, all that we are and all that we have is God's, and God has a purpose for each of us. That means we all have a goal in our faith, not set by ourselves but set by God.

Second, scope is "space or opportunity for unhampered movement, activity, or thought." God seeks to give us the space and opportunity to be unhampered in our faith, and our faith involves movement, activity, and thought. Faith is not passive; though we are saved by grace, and not by works, our faith is expressed through our love. "A Modern Affirmation" in the United Methodist Hymnal says this:
We believe that this faith should manifest itself 
in the service of love
as set forth in the example of our blessed LORD,
to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth. Amen.
Love requires thought and action. Love requires movement -- maybe not physical movement, but emotional and spiritual movement. God calls us to love, and for us God finds the space and opportunity for us to love, following the example of our LORD.

I love the third verse, so I'm just going to quote all of it:
In the Spirit let us travel
Open to each other's pain,
Let our loves and fears unravel,
Celebrate the space we gain:
There's a place for deepest dreaming,
There's a time for heart to care,
In the Spirit's lively scheming
There is always room to spare.

This is the verse that reads in the most sanctifying grace-like way to me, but I think from a prevenient and justifying grace point of view it says a lot. It can be read as a journey continuing or as a journey beginning: let us travel. But I skipped the really important part: In the Spirit. With belief comes the Holy Spirit, who is Counselor, Consoler, Comforter, Advocate, who teaches us what to say and how to act, who fills us. To go back to "A Modern Affirmation:"
We believe in the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives
whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ
and find strength and help in time of need.
And here's a line from the World Methodist Social Affirmation: the Holy Spirit, present with us to guide, strengthen, and comfort.
It sounds really hard to be open to each other's pain, to let go of our loves and fears, and to be constantly traveling. It's so much easier to stay stagnant. But we're not doing this on our own. The Spirit is present to remind us of why we're doing this, to be God in our lives, to guide us, and to give us strength, help, and comfort. That plural pronoun is important, too; faith is very personal, but it is also communal. We are the body of Christ, one Church throughout all the world.

And what do we gain when we travel in the Spirit? We find all that space and time and opportunity God has opened for us. God found scope for our faith, and we grow into that when we travel together in the Spirit. In our place for deepest dreaming, what do we dream? How do we choose to care? God has given us room. How do we use it? And then there's this: There is always room to spare. The hymn doesn't say that God has found scope for faith begun, though that's true. It says God is finding scope for faith begun. There is always room to spare because we can always grow in God, because we are always called to grow more in our faith. Our LORD calls us to perpetual motion.

But that place of perpetual motion? It's a place of peace. Go back to the first verse: Come and find the quiet center. In that place of growing faith, of never staying the same, we are centered. It is peaceful and holy. Clear the chaos and the clutter. It's the simplest place, in a way. It's the place where there is room.

Be at peace, and simply be.

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