After literally a couple of decades pondering the true meaning of faith, I have finally made enough progress to share. Not that this is my final answer, but it’s still worth consideration.
I have always been told that I have unshakable faith. I have also been at a loss here, because most of my beliefs are based in personal, direct experience, not accepting someone else’s story. I have always said I don’t have faith, I have direct experience. I considered the terms faith and belief to be interchangeable, being that they are both understood to refer to something other than direct experience. To say “I believe in something” or “I have faith in something” seemed like the same thing. The thing is, those words aren’t interchangeable, after all.
Dogma is easier to define, if possibly harder to see in ourselves. Once a belief becomes solidified, it turns into dogma. How can you tell when this happens? Dogma is present when there is only one right way, and it applies to everyone. It is commonly associated with religion, but it is just as pervasive in science, politics, nationalism, and finance, to name a few. Dogma is the result of a mind closed by its beliefs, and unwilling to allow room for other options to even be heard, let alone examined.
We all know that extreme religious type, who is busy condemning others for not living up to their chosen standards, but look at other areas. Do you know someone who has so much pride in their country, that the rest of the entire globe is doing it wrong? What about that friend who defends everything science is currently professing, without the willingness to consider some of it may be outdated theory in only a few years? Western medicine? The military? I’ve even seen some amazingly dogmatic beliefs within the New Age and spiritual communities. We currently live in a dogmatic culture, which encourages unquestioning obedience to whatever beliefs you hold. The only way to break the hold of dogma is to question everything.
Beliefs are a more fluid thing, and can still be influenced by new information and experiences. Beliefs are the box we live in, and we can change them out, or at least expand them, when we see fit. We all believe in something. Even if direct experience is our foundation, stories must be created to fill in the gaps, to create a safe space for our ego to wonder. The ego keeps the box of our beliefs in tact as best it can. That’s what we pay it for. The illusion of separation requires the formation of the ego to keep the curtain up. Beliefs are essential, but changeable. By changing your beliefs, you change your experience of the world.
Faith is a whole different matter. Faith is a mystical experience, completely independent of belief systems. It is the subtle certainty that you are loved and safe, no matter what the outside world looks like, no matter what your current story. It’s not “I have faith in God/dess” or “I have faith in Divine order”. If your faith is in something, then it is really just a belief, no matter how strong a belief it is. Faith is simply “I have faith”. It is the ability to surrender entirely to the mystery, with complete trust that you are always safe. As with all mystical experiences, words are only a shadow of the meaning they try to convey.
Faith is the ability to truly live in the Mystery, if even for a few fleeting moments. Completely undefined, without the ego-comfort of belief, totally expansive. Of course, as soon as the ego catches a glimpse of this, terror ensues. Talking about living in the Mystery, and actually doing it, are very different things. But the ability to completely release definition, even for a moment, is Faith. And yes, I have Faith.