The relationship between faith and action raises some interesting questions, many of which are largely overlooked in contemporary society.
For starters, most religions advocate the necessity of action to keep faith alive. Action, in fact, is highly regarded in Western culture. But the meaning of the term ‘action’ is often loaded with cultural assumptions and, therefore, misunderstood.
We could say, for instance, that Trappist monks are more inwardly active than externally so. These monks, being one of the more contemplative sort, believe that their internal prayer life has positive effects on other people, just as the great saints believed that they interceded for other souls.
So if his beliefs are true, the Trappist monk is extremely active, but most of us don’t see it that way.
Faith-based action also takes a more worldly form, a form which everyone can easily understand and appreciate. Here I’m talking about charities and goodwill missions that serve the needy.
In most instances, it’s likely that a continuum exists between contemplative and worldly action. And it seems that those disposed to contemplation understand the good works of worldly folk but the converse is rarely true. This, perhaps, explains why in Hinduism the path of knowledge (jnana-yoga) is said to be more difficult than the path of action (karma-yoga). Active people often become hostile towards contemplatives. And sometimes they can even be abusive.
Along these lines, some orthodox and gnostic Christians, alike, interpret these words of Jesus Christ to his disciples as a warning to keep an eye out for vulgar materialists:
Mind you, no discussion of spirituality and abuse would be complete without calling attention to the opposite situation where charismatic gurus with an abundance of numinous powers swamp gullible disciples and, in so doing, are just as abusive toward individuals as vulgar materialists can be to potential saints. The abuse is different. But it’s still abuse.
In less extreme scenarios it seems reasonable to suggest that contemplatives and active individuals can keep each other in check, providing, or course, the rules of fair play are observed. By this I mean that some contemplatives can get smug, lazy, and authoritarian. And a good kick in the pants from an active person might, in some instances, actually help to realign them to their saintly calling (if not perhaps in the way that the active person envisioned it).
By the same token, the active person at times needs to be ‘toned down’ by the wisdom of the contemplative. For if a contemplative is truly focusing on God (and not some strange power), over time they should begin to accrue at least some wisdom that others could benefit from.
- Courageous faith in action through volunteering (northamptonjesuscentre.wordpress.com)
- Kentucky’s Trappist monks get shout-out in Food Network magazine (ashleeeats.com)
- Gandhi & faith in action (pathikpathak.wordpress.com)