By the Rev. Mike Marsh
I can believe a thousand different things by lunchtime on any given day. “I believe the world is round.” “I believe the sky is falling.” “I believe I’ll have the enchilada plate, thank you.” Some of my beliefs are grounded in facts and reality. Others are based on fears, wounds, and losses. And still others arise from my own imagination, desires, and the reality I create in my head. If I am honest, I must also admit (confess) that sometimes my beliefs depend on where I am, who I am with, and the circumstances in which I find myself.
Some beliefs and truths, however, are so critical, so important, so integral to our existence and relationships that they are worth holding onto and repeating over and over. Take, for instance, the words “I love you.” How many times have we spoken those words to our children, our spouse, our parents, siblings, friends? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? We say the same three words day after day; perhaps even several times per day. There’s not much novelty or innovation to them. They are the same old words that were said yesterday, last year, twenty years ago. Novelty and innovation, however, are not the issue.
With those three words we take a stand, make a commitment, and shape our life in a particular way. They profess unity, stability, and direction for our lives. Some words just have to be spoken. They not only express a reality, they help create a reality, and remind us of what is most real and important.
So it is that Sunday after Sunday we stand side by side and say, “We believe in one God….” They are the same old words that were said last week, last year, last century. The words originated more than 1500 years ago. With those words we declare a common faith and belief and join our voice to the ones next to us, to those around the world who, in whatever language they speak, worship and believe as do we, and to the generations of voices who have gone before us and who now sing with the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven.
Some will look at the division within the Church, East and West, Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative, and declare our faith and belief to be anything but common. The divisions are real. They do not, however, have to be the final reality. Perhaps that is why the last word of both the Nicene and Apostles’s Creeds is “amen.” The creeds are an expression and symbol of our faith and belief. They are equally a prayer that that faith and belief might become a lived reality. After all, theology can only be understood and lived when and as it is prayed. Through the creeds we are declaring what is and praying for what might be, the already and the not yet. We are like the one who said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
“The Creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable…. If we do not love one another, we cannot love God and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith.”
(Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 215)
1. Often when we pray the liturgy we hear voices that are speaking faster or slower than others. Try this the next time you pray the Creed: intentionally join your voice to the voice next to you. Listen and then adjust your cadence to mirror that of the person standing next to you. How does that feel? Do you experience anything new or different?
2. Do you simply recite the Creed? Do you pray the Creed? Do you live the Creed? Are these different? If so, in what ways? What implications do they have for your life and faith?
3. Consider Bishop Ware’s statement, “The Creed belongs only to those who live it.” What might you do or change that would help you live the Creed? How might living the Creed affect your relationships with others?