In response to this Sunday’s scripture readings (Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91: 1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13), which describes Jesus’s temptation in the desert by Satan, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry wrote a reflection that is well worth reading. It is quoted in part below (bold emphasis is mine):
“If you are like most of the people involved in LGBT church advocacy that I meet, you probably wish that you could have some certainty that the actions that you are taking are going to make a difference in the world, that God will somehow bless them with the grace of being effective. Connected to this wish for certainty are feelings that God would show some tangible sign that our prayers are being heard, that the promise of justice and equality will take root and flower.
“Unfortunately, too often that doesn’t happen. God offers us a lot of things, but the gift of certainty about the future is never among them. Just as God offers humanity free will to accept or reject the spiritual gifts offered, God also created humanity with the condition of not being certain about outcomes. Besides death and taxes, what do we know that really is certain? In place of certainty, we have to rely on faith. Faith is the alternative to certainty. As the words of the hymn say: “We walk by faith, and not by sight.”
“The temptation for certainty is understandable. Without it, all of our big decisions or important actions are going to involve a large degree of risk. Risk is not easy, but it is essential to faith. In fact, it’s a main part of what faith in action means. We generally think of faith as “belief,” some sort of interior assent or disposition. I think the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had it right though: faith is basically a leap we must make. And without a safety net below us.
“In 12 step groups, the Third Step is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” I’m not a 12-stepper, but the spirituality offered in the program is basic spirituality applicable to all. “To turn our will and our lives over the care of God” is basically a leap of faith. It means living without certainty, living a life of risk, living without the ability to control outcomes. It means that we have to make a very basic decision. Easy to say, very difficult to do. Wouldn’t you rather rely on something that has some kind of guarantee or warranty connected to it?
“The biggest consolation that I have when I wish for a non-existent certainty in any given situation is that Jesus experienced this dynamic, too. In today’s Gospel story, his answers seem very pat and satisfied. Yet, near the end of his life, on the night before his crucifixion, we see a Jesus praying in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, a Jesus who wants to know that his risk is going to do some good, a Jesus who is tempted to give it all up for a much more comfortable and predictable life.
“If we are using Lent to draw into a closer relationship with God, I suggest that one of the things we should try to “give up” is our desire for certainty. It won’t happen overnight, and like overcoming most big temptations, it will mean continuously making small decisions in particular situations. I think it will help us all learn to rely more on our faith in God, allowing us the freedom to live a life of more risks.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Frank’s ideas immediately got me making a correlation about reading tarot. Clients too often seem to come to tarot readers because they are looking for certainty about the future. Those clients are hoping that by finding the right “prophet” that they might actually get all the answers in a magical hallelluia moment when angels blow the right cards out of the deck and the card reader tells them exactly what God has planned.
The only problem is, the scripture quotes Jesus as identifying this model as wrong: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Humans aren’t meant to be able to see the future like a movie reel. They are meant to be able to gauge the future through the eyes of virtue and prudence and to act consciously towards that self-determined future. That is why we have free will—we are given the option to be able to choose the best way forward.
But the tarot does give us an alternative to “certainty about the future”…and that alternative is Faith. Faith is a big word. It’s not blinded like Justice. Faith looks forward keenly, locked arm-in-arm with Hope. With Faith comes confidence, serenity, self-assured-ness, and builds towards greater certitude until we know we can accomplish the goals we’ve set our prospects upon.
“Where exactly is this “Faith” that you seem to think is in the tarot?” you might be asking yourself. It’s in the Major Arcana and is commonly referred to as the “Popess” (card II), but can also be recognized as “the Church” and can also be recognized as “Faith.” See this blog post for a visual example.
Again, Faith doesn’t have to be blind. And Faith is bigger than just the Catholic Church, if you happen to subscribe to another, different, or no religious affiliation at all. How about having some faith in yourself and your capabilities? How about having some faith in the political process? (I know that one might be hard at times, but part of the prescription of Faith is participation—you have to have the faith to believe that you have a voice and can make a difference in the world in which you live…)
The small prayer offered by a commenter of the bondings 2.0 blog referenced above, really captures the essence of Frank DeBernardo’s reflection:
“I pray that I will use my faith to make those small decisions that will bring me closer to the person I am called to be. Let me live with the ‘gift of uncertainty’ and not worry about how effective I am.”