New Beginnings

“I believe, help my unbelief!” Those could be our words every day, especially in this time of daily fear and uncertainty. Is today the day that I will begin showing symptoms of the Covid-19 virus? Every day we ask God to help our unbelief, the attacks of fear and uncertainty in our lives. And every day can be a new beginning for our faith. That’s what I want to reflect on this morning: Today and every day as a new beginning.

We are all beginners. Even if we were baptised as unknowing infants, our walk in faith began at our baptism. God’s grace knows no age limits – no upper or lower age limits! I believe that from infancy God is working in the depths of our being to teach us and guide us. But as we go through life, we ignore those deep echoes of God’s Spirit and so we cry out, Help my unbelief! We believe. If you’re reading this you believe. But also almost every one of us can relate to the father in today’s Gospel reading in the Orthodox Church. Help my unbelief.

Raphael’s famous painting of the father and his son is part of a larger panel that includes the transfiguration of Christ in the background (not shown here).

So we begin, we always begin. Beginnings are God’s gift to us, a gift that never stops renewing and never stops giving. But it is also a challenge. After the assault our faith and confidence have received in this pandemic we will begin again. Will we re-discover – or maybe discover for the first time – the goodness of life in this world, the life that is always worthy of love and respect? Yes, but only if we have learned any lessons in this crisis – lessons of transcending our personal wants and lessons of opening ourselves to others.

Our baptism is the beginning of beginnings. Prayer helps us listen to God and neighbour. Prayer that is rooted in the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ is the only prayer that is not rooted in selfish needs. And it is the only prayer that opens our hearts and minds to the voice of God and neighbour. You can’t separate God from neighbour, they go together. Jesus made that very clear, over and over.

Worship unites us in prayer with the neighbour, with our brothers and sisters, and together we hear the voice of God. Believe me, the voice of God is there in our worship, in our Liturgy, if we just stop listening to ourselves for that hour that we are in church – when we are in church, as church, which sadly we cannot be during this pandemic.

Prayer and worship cannot be separated from repentance, confession and forgiveness. If our prayer and worship are genuine, they reveal to us what we need to confess. That was the crisis moment for the father in today’s Gospel reading. His encounter with Jesus opened his understanding that he needed healing. The healing of his son was not the only healing! I would even say, that the true miracle was the healing of the man’s soul and faith. The miracle was the new beginning that was granted to him – not only with a healed son, but with a healed heart and mind. 

Hearing the voice of God and neighbour in prayer also opens us up to a life of service to others and resistance to how society tells us to live. Every time we resist society’s priorities, it’s a new beginning in our faith. And at every new beginning we say Thank You. We learn to live in gratitude. Not just with gratitude in our mouths, but in gratitude – as we embrace everything and everyone with a spirit of joy and gratitude. I am grateful to be with you the reader – even if not in person. I’m grateful for all that we are able to receive from each other in this time of fear and uncertainty. 

Will we be able to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord this year? Most likely not in the way we are used to celebrating it. It’s only three weeks away (two weeks for most Christians who are not in the Orthodox tradition) and I don’t see any easing of the pandemic in time for Pascha. That will be a terrible loss. And yet, we can have the resurrection – if not on April 19th (or 12th), then certainly when we resume normal routines. But how many things will be normal again? I don’t know. Will all jobs return to what they were? Will we just pick up where our lives stopped because of this virus? I don’t know.

Let’s not look for our resurrection in what we call ‘normal’. Let us look for our resurrection in the new beginnings that God offers us every day. He is the Beginner, the one who endlessly leads us to new life. He is the One who began a good work in us and will bring it to completion. When? That’s a question I don’t ask, because every day is a new beginning. Every day He helps me in my unbelief. Every day He meets me as Love, as Christ. Every day He helps you in your unbelief. Every day He meets you as Love, as Christ. Glory be to Him. Amen.

(A few phrases, paragraph topics and title of this post were inspired by the book Bonhoeffer’s New Beginning: Ethics after Devastation by Andrew D. DeCort. But most of the words in this post are my own. My concluding words are directly inspired by Bonhoeffer in his Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, p. 213 in the English edition: And it is only the beginning of the new life, an eschatological prolepsis, where the You reveals itself to the I as another I, as heart, as love, as Christ.)

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