I cannot imagine a world without faith, hope and love. We would be left without the inheritance of spiritual gifts to make sense of life, press into life, and embrace the goodness of life. For this is what faith, hope and love, the gifts of our birthright in Christ, offer to us.
Christian faith speaks the living words of God into our hearts, so that we can hear the voice of the only first-hand witness to God’s existence, presence and character. As I receive the gift to hear Jesus’ words with clarity, my capacity expands to hold those words, to ponder them, to cherish them, to wonder about them, and ultimately, to live within and from them. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christian faith holds hidden richness, simple truths with more facets than can be comprehended in a single lifetime.
Christian hope is the strong gift by which we press into life. Our lives do not consist of endless tropical breezes, but we confront storms and frosts, snow and ice…edged by enough quiet moments to cause us to long for a home beyond our reach. But through true Christian hope we are strengthened to weather the storms, to traverse the terrain, to stay alive in drought. In hope we rise into all we can be, even as in humility we know that we cannot press in unless the Spirit strengthens us to do so. Along the way we discover joy, that breath of the Spirit that enlivens our days.
Christian love is the gift of connection by which we embrace life, receiving love from God, and responding in love to him, we initiate love toward others and receiving the gifts of intimacy and friendship. Christian love grows in wisdom and in engagement with God and the world. As engagement with God becomes deeper, our capacity for the world grows larger. Resting in the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we come to know others as a reflection of how we ourselves are known.
All three gifts move with a specific rhythm in our souls. Like the breathing of our bodies, the “inhale, exhale” of these gifts are subtle and hidden. But just as our lungs function, our souls have similar fundamental rhythms, receptivity and activity. In receptivity we open the gates of our hearts, to insights to help us make sense of the moment, to receive strength we cannot muster, to grow in the wisdom found in the embracing of God and others. But receptivity, unlike her sick sister, passivity, is not merely to be acted on. In receptivity, we are willing to be changed by what we hear, encounter and embrace. We are not left the same. Neither is some change forced upon us. Rather, our souls shift slightly each time these gifts are received. In this way Christians are “formed,” over time carrying the words, the strength and the embrace of God.
The other primary motion in the soul is activity. It would be no good to be “willing” to changed if we did not actual engage our will and make the change. An active faith keeps the word, instead of just hearing it. A vital h ope steps into the strength received. And a connected love overflows with what has been deposited. Without the carry-through of these movements, the soul produces the counterfeit: keeping human codifications of God’s living word, substituting a presumptuous “I’ll take it from here” for the true gift of sustaining hope, living within love’s cheap imitation, sentimentality, with its convenient pleasant feelings that demand no cost.
Receptivity and activity are like the repetitive impact of water on stone, slowly shaping hard material into a living channel to everything encountered downstream. God shapes our hard hearts as we respond to the gifts we have received, that we might become people shaped by the Spirit–filled with faith, hope and love. We receive, carry, extend, and “turn, unfilled, to Thee again.” These simple motions take us first, deep into the heart of God, then deep into the world he created and is in the process of redeeming.
(What I have presented here is a very simple telling of Josef Pieper’s wonderful work, Faith, Hope and Love by Ignatius Press. Pieper is a philosopher, and though clear, his works are dense, but worth the effort to understand these insights largely lost to our contemporary world.)