Wednesday, 2 January 2013


My attention stops on something the preacher says.

Turns its head.

Asks: “What did you say?”

The rest is forgotten.

Last Sunday, there came a moment in a prayer when the preacher said “it doesn’t matter if our faith weak or if it’s strong” – and my attention, moving right along there with the prayer, suddenly found its coat-sleeve caught on the doorknob of that phrase, jerked right back – “What did you say?”

I stayed transfixed on the thought: weak faith versus strong faith – what does that mean?  Is it a viable distinction?  Can faith be quantified?

Romans 14:1 “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye . . .”  But this refers not to whether the believer’s personal faith in Jesus burns bright or dim, is muscular or limp – it is about scrupulosity inhibiting freedom; about being weak in the faith, ie not yet established in the cultural/doctrinal norms of the new religion.

Strong faith or weak?  Quantifiable?

Matthew 17:19-20.  Equally puzzling.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’
He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’

What’s odd here is that Jesus seems to contradict himself.  First he identifies the problem as the diminutive size/amount of the disciples’ faith.  Next he says, even if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (which in Mark 4:31 he calls ‘the smallest of all seeds on earth’) it’ll serve to move mountains.

What does Luke say?

(Luke 17:5-6)
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.

Hmm.  In this, it’s the disciples who regard faith as a size issue – Jesus says it’s about what you have (faith) not how much you have of it.

Yet in a number of places, Jesus comments on the great (or little) faith of those who turned to him – a quick and easy way to see this is to do a keyword search for ‘faith’ through the books of the New Testament on Bible Gateway – here.

In my explorations of Eckhart Tolle, my attention was caught by something he said about awakening – becoming enlightened.  Rather wistfully his interviewer asked, having heard Eckhart's own story of being suddenly and permanently catapulted from chronic anxious depression into a permanent awakened state, what the rest of us could do to find our way into such a state of mind.

Tolle replied (my paraphrase) that if you have begun to long and to look and to search, you are already waking up – the process has begun.  If you were not already awakening, the whole proposition would seem either laughable or completely opaque – nonsense.

Perhaps this is the ‘little faith’ – the grain of mustard that is not yet a plant; still waiting to be planted and nurtured and germinated into what it has the potential to be – but nonetheless, all mustard.

And then maybe the great faith is the daily practise of the wise and kind – those who have learned how to forgive, how to transcend what Paul calls ‘the flesh’  the meaner, baser aspect, the egoic false self, the ‘life’ of self-interest that Jesus says we must lose (here and here)to enter the abundant life streaming from God that he offers us.

I have no idea whether my faith is great or small.  I have no measure to hold against it, and I cannot see if it fluctuates or not – I think it does.   But I do know that mustard has an unmistakeable flavour.   I will follow the flavour and hope the amount will grow by itself.

By the way, there is no point in the photos I post here – they don’t mean anything.  It’s just that I personally like pictures and am always disappointed if there aren’t any.  I am wary of using the intellectual property of others, and it is just me, here in this small room.  That’s why you get all these photos of . . . er . . . me, here in this small room.


kat said...

As ever, some good and thoughtful thoughts to carry into the new year, must check the library for Eckhart Tolle ... and an amusing "prove you're not a robot" - havypest - perhaps a sort or West Country dialect wretched wretch? xxx

Pen Wilcock said...

Mm. 'Havypest', eh? How did they know?

Unknown said...

So well said, Pen. I've observed that Christian people the world over are now resolving at this time of year to "Be a better Christian". Better than what, I wonder? Under the blinding sun of grace, IS there a "better than"? Isn't it ALL MUSTARD, as you've pointed out?

And Ha've reminded me of something I once heard a preacher say from the pulpit: "If there is anything I'm most proudest's my modesty."

Pilgrim said...

I always like pictures of light streaming in, and of rows or stacks of books.
I hope you have a good year.
Faith is such an abstract concept. It seems like wind. We only see where it passes. Does it exist if it's not moving?

Buzzfloyd said...

I like 'Havypest'. :-) I also like this picture much better than all the dingy grey ones that blend together for me.

Libby said...

Hurray, I have finally worked out how to reply! Its taken a few months! Thank you Ember for your blog.....I find it so encouraging to share your journey and often recognise my own. Thank you for being real.....I am learning to be that way too....therein lies freedom!
As regards mustard, I find more and more that the journey is not about acquiring more "faith", but about learning to be present , finding everything is already here....especially God's love within.......then I can rest and be at peace.......(something I want to learn more about this year.) Looking forward to sharing the journey with you in 2013! x x x

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello friends :0)

Hey Julie G - I feel like I've spent most of the day with you, both of us prowling around Facebook looking for fun and inspiration! x

Hello Pilgrim - yes, 'So it is with all those who are born of the Spirit' :0) I love pictures where the light streams, too. x

Hiya Buzz - hope you are all keeping well? The Badger has had the mother and father of all sickness bugs and Fi was laid low for a couple of days, too. Interested in what you say about the photo. I usually just take a photo with the webcam, which does very poor quality images. It's just a question of being bothered to get up and fetch the camera off the shelf. x

Libby - well done! You got here! And that is the perfect summary of mustard you wrote there! x

Gerry Snape said...

my "faith" took a great blow 16 years ago...from being the positive....just How could you God?...then climbing up a mountain called "faithful" ...realised as I awoke that it's His faithfulness and not my still on a severe learning curve but seems to be the right road at least it's the one less travelled.

Paula said...

Love, this, Pen. Something important to contemplate. I wonder:

--Could it be said that "faith" is an absolute term, like "unique"? That it cannot be quantified as a result? I like that a lot.

--But what about that "little faith" passage? Well, could it be that Jesus was saying that the disciples didn't have faith, just a shadow of it? If they had the real deal, then they could move mountains with only a mustard seed-sized portion of faith?

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friends :0)

Gerry that sounds like some very steep mountain passes your path has take you through. May 2013 bring some green pastures and stil waters xx

Paula - yes, I like the similarity of 'unique'. As to the 'little faith' passage, I suspect (though I cannot know) that what actually happened was that Matthew, in assembling the material for his gospel, stitched together two sayings of Jesus that seemed to him to go together, and inadvertently imported an inherent contradiction. xx

Rebecca said...

I like the pictures of you in your small room....AND mustard.

Bean said...

I have never given any thought to the size of faith. Some people I know I have described as having a deep faith, or as being very faithful, and in doing so perhaps was telling myself that they appeared to have more faith than the average person??? I don't know, I will have to think about it some more.
My first thought as I read your question about can faith be quantified was the old saying, "you can't be a little bit pregnant" :) either you are or you aren't, there is no in between and I think it is the same way with faith.

Blessings to you,


Pen Wilcock said...

Rebecca - goodo - yes, that's why I post them - it's because when you sit down with a person for a conversation, you can see them (obviously). When I read your comments in response, I like to look at the icon that appears beside them, showing the face of the person (or the symbol that represents them) imagining you are here with me.

Bean - I think that analogy is exact and perfect. Because, as you say, the pregnancy either is or isn't - but the baby grows and develops, comes to birth; or can also, bringing terrible sadness, die. Faith is a living condition.

Julie B. said...

I like the way your deep thinking and pondering helps me to do the same. And I also think that in this photo you look to be in your thirties. So young and serene. xxoo

Pen Wilcock said...

My very dear friend, you really must come to England and meet me . . . You know - while I'm still young and serene ;)