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A question of faith

msilf_01‘What does it mean to be a person of faith?’ was the question explored by well known Christian author Margaret Silf, in a talk attended by over three hundred people in Gardiner St Church, Friday 25 March. Silf’s books have the strong Ignatian theme of finding God in everyday life and she has  studied spiritual companionship with the Jesuits in Britain. She now works full-time in retreat-giving and hosting workshops and days of reflection. In her address, ‘A Question of Faith’ she argued that there is “an ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of post-modern and even ‘post-church’ men and women.”   And having noted the  desire amongst people of all faiths for certainty and security, she asserted that in contrast, the Christian gospel is about “mystery and risk.” Read the report of her talk from www.catholicireland.net, below.

‘A Question of Faith’

Margaret Silf: Gardiner St Church talk.

“What does it mean to be a person of faith?” was one the questions posed by laywoman and Christian writer, Margaret Silf, in her address at Gardiner Street church last Friday.

The well-known author of books on living Christian spirituality in everyday life suggested that there is “an ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of post-modern and even ‘post-church’ men and women.”  Discussing the desire amongst people of all faiths for certainty and security, she said the Christian gospel is about “mystery and risk.”

“A religious structure that deludes us into thinking that we are safe and secure and that we have got it altogether is not authentic,” she said, as she explained to her listeners that searching for a faith based on certainty was, in her view, an obstacle to faith.

“You could argue that there is no such thing as an atheist – there are only people who have rejected a very flawed image of God,” she suggested.

Silf, who is a mother and grandmother, has studied spiritual companionship with the Jesuits in Britain and now works full-time in retreat-giving, hosting workshops and giving days of reflection.

In her address, A Question of Faith she told those gathered in Gardiner Street church that there are two fundamental questions differentiating a person of faith from a person without any faith.  These are, “Where is my life centred or where is life itself centred?” and, “Does life have any meaning?”

An atheist would answer that life is a random haphazard struggle for the survival of the selfish gene and we are deluding ourselves if we think there is any meaning to it – you just have to get the best out of it you can.  On the other hand, a person of faith must address questions such as: do I believe that my life is centred on something bigger than myself?  Do I want to live from that centre?  Do I think life has meaning?

For those contemplating these questions through Ignatian spirituality, its first principle underlines that “God is the Creator, we are the creatures.  We are in orbit around God not the other way around.  Nor can we expect all creation to come into orbit around us.”

While that sounded straightforward – “Gospel truth is stunningly simple but incredibly hard to live,” she asserted, the living of it is a very different matter because during any one day, she said, “we will make choices as if we were the centre – we want creation to revolve around us.  The result is constant strife and conflict as everybody becomes the centre of their own universe.”

For Silf, faith means, “life is centred on the deepest core of our being which is the source of our being in God.”  Life has meaning when we are in right relationship with the source of our being and our desire is to tip the scales a little bit towards the greater good.

The writer also drew attention to the importance of understanding the context of Jesus’ ministry in order to fully appreciate the significance and symbolism of the names he used and actions he took which were often “a direct and hugely provocative challenge to the Roman Empire.”

She asked what was the Roman Empire – the dominating system that Jesus was challenging – for today’s Christians?  “Is there an empire lurking in our Church institution?  What would Jesus challenge now?”

Speaking on the Feast of the Annunciation, Margaret Silf said finding God in the reality of our everyday lives from Monday to Saturday as opposed to neatly packed away in a box on Sunday entails living the gospel in our everyday lives.

Explaining that believers enter into relationship with God by listening to what is happening in their lives and seeking to find where God might be in their lives, Silf underlined that “God is constantly striving to bring the best possible life-giving outcome to whatever happens.  God is constantly striving to bring about a more loving outcome” and he is not waiting to get us for an infringement of the rules.

She added that this mystery – God – in whom we live, and move, and have our being, is intentional.  It has a desire and an intention, and that intention is love.  Asking who Jesus is for Christians, she posed the question, “Does Jesus point backwards or forwards” and suggested that as Jesus shows us who we can be and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to walk the way and to come a little closer to the way, the focus is forwards.

Referring to a talk given by Fr Richard Rohr in Liverpool a few years ago in which he challenged his audience to show him where in the Gospels Jesus had said “worship me,” she noted that Rohr then highlighted that in twenty different places Jesus had said “follow me.”

Margaret Silf warned, “Be careful that in worshiping this man you don’t make yourself the best excuse you’ll ever find not to follow him.”  She added, “A lot of worship of Jesus can go on and that can become an excuse not to follow.  I would say, worship God, follow Jesus and be empowered by the spirit.”

The English writer followed her address on Friday evening with a one-day conference for chaplains on Saturday at Mater Dei entitled Everyday God: Finding God in the Events and Encounters of our everyday.

Her publications include Inner Compass, Close to the Heart, Wayfaring, Sacred Spaces, and the Gift of Prayer. Her latest titles are Wise Choices (Bluebridge) and Roots and Wings: the Human Journey from a Speck of Stardust to a Spark of God (Eerdmanns) and 2011 A Book of Grace Filled Days.