One day my pastor invited me to join him on a pastoral visit to a nursing home. I wanted to please him, so I said I would go. I had no desire to be there. I didn’t know this woman we were going to see, but I knew once we got that out of the way we would go to lunch and we could discuss theology.
I have never liked nursing homes. In high school and college it seemed like I was always connected with some group of people who wanted to go Christmas caroling at “the old folks home.” I loathed that time. The place was depressing. The old people sat there in their wheelchairs staring out into nothingness or nodding along silently clapping their hands. The places also smelled. They smelled “too clean.” They were always so institutional and if you had been in one, you’d been in them all.
This day with my pastor we walked into the room. It was filled with pictures. It was quiet and the sun was streaming in the windows. I could barely see the woman in her bed. She was simply bones wrapped in skin buried under a pile of blankets. I will never forget her eyes. As she saw Pastor Bob they gleamed. He knelt next to her, eye to eye, and spoke with her.
“How are you?” he asked gently and quietly.
Unable to speak her eyes fell. The pain apparent on her face. When she opened her eyes the glimmer was gone and replaced with sadness.
“Do you want to be with Jesus?” he asked ever more gently.
Again her eyes closed and when they opened there was an unadulterated joy in her countenance. Her eyes glimmered with a hope that went beyond anything I had ever known before.
He prayed. He prayed for her to be able to join her Savior, where there would be no more pain, where her tears would be wiped away, and that she would be made whole.
Her eyes were so full of joy and peace.
My mind was spinning a million miles an hour. I was both offended and moved by the prayer. I was confused. I didn’t know what to expect walking in and I didn’t know what to think or even feel as we left.
Something was changing in me though. I was not the same person I was fifteen minutes before, or was it an hour. To this day, that experience felt like a dream.
We got back into the car and he looked me in the eye and said, “That is pure and undefiled religion, Dan, being there with her in these moments. This is what it is to minister like Jesus. (James 1:19–27)”
There was silence for a while.
Looking back on that day I realize that God began a work to help me understand that faith was more than intellectual ascent.
Faith is lived. Real faith is displayed in our bodies in the physical acts that we live out every day.
“Faith not works!”
“Don’t be a Pharisee!”
“Faith not feelings!”
These are the ideas that have dominated much of my Christian life. I grew up into my faith in the Evangelical and conservative stream that has shown itself to be empty. These ideas, while not bad in themselves, created in me a very real dichotomy between the mind and the body.
I understood my faith to be primarily an intellectual activity. There was little in the way of a physical connectedness in my faith. What I did didn’t matter as much as what I said I believed. If I could argue from the Bible my theology and show I was right, then my life didn’t matter that much.
This was particularly true because I was spending my days arguing for Christianity with non-Christians. A worthwhile and noble cause that freed me from caring about people beyond their minds.
That day was years ago and only recently am I understanding the significance of it. Why? Because I didn’t have words for what I experienced. I couldn’t say what it was that I experienced that day. I didn’t have words for what I was beginning to experience as I mobilized people to serve others. I didn’t have words for the hours of being there with my friend as he died this fall.
I have words now.
This is how one of my colleagues, Chris Winans, defined faith recently. This small phrase has given words to my experience of the last few years. This idea of faith being embodied loyalty has opened up a reality of what faith is. It has unified the grace and works divide that I have struggled with for years.
Faith is embodied loyalty.
What we do matters. Our feelings matter. The physical world matters. Here matters. This place matters.
When we begin to come to terms with faith as an embodied loyalty then faith becomes “real.” For me, it has opened my life to what is happening around me. The here and now-ness of faith demands my presence in the lives of people. It demands me to show up and be with folks. Prayer becomes something I do on the way and is not the end.
Faith is an embodied loyalty that makes all creation sacred.
So, when it comes right down to it, faith demands us to “Just Do It.”