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Introducing Faith in Canada 150

November 5th, 2015

Some years ago a young scholar approached the door of a convent in Montreal seeking historical documents for his studies.  An elderly cloistered nun answered his knock not by opening the door but by asking him through an intercom what specific documents he wanted. He replied that he was unable to say exactly what he wanted until he knew precisely what was available. 

“I can’t let you in until I know what you want,” the nun said.

“I won’t know what I want until you let me in to see what is there,” he said.

“I can’t let you in until I know….”

The exchange spun on its axis for several cycles as the scholar, like the rich young man in Matthew’s Gospel, experienced first hand the joyful paradox that is at the heart of all faith. We must seek without being sure of what is sought until we have found it. We are welcomed in only by committing to certainties we are not even certain we possess.

The young scholar’s story is true and dates from this millennium. Yet it as ancient as a puzzling Buddhist koan, an Amerindian spirit quest or Job’s cry in the Tanach: “Where shall Wisdom be found?”

Knock and the door will be opened to you, Jesus of Nazareth said. Ask and it shall be given unto you. But knock where? Ask what? How will we know the answer unless we know the answer? Are we on this spinning earth only to get dizzy from such questions?

Faith firmly assures us the answer is no. Faith is there to steady us against dizziness. It does not do so with blind promise. Rather, it guides us by the proof that others have broken through the koan’s puzzle, completed the journey, found the wisdom that lies on the other side of the door we knock upon.

The fact of faith having such characteristics does not mean, as some mischief-makers want us to believe, that all religious faiths are the same. Nor, as claimed by some, does it mean believers in a particular faith must abandon a general claim to truth.  

Seeking the steadying hand of faith while denying the reality of arms would be a strange pursuit indeed. Faith, by its nature, enfolds us. We would have to be a very special form of dizzy to fold ourselves into that which we are prepared to admit is self-evidently false. 

True pluralism, that great gift of authentic religiosity, asks only that as we unpack the truth of our enfolding faith, we leave space for others to do the same. In place of a call to arms, it asks us to respect the long and short of other religious faith; to live in the spirit of allowing other hands the freedom to knock.

Some 150 years ago, as Canada began coalescing into a country, that spirit was loosed upon our land. Its form was not perfected overnight, and there were dark times of negation. But we have reached a moment, rare in human existence, when the door, the space, and the wisdom of faith freely, fully and truly lived, are open to all Canadians.

Faith in Canada 150, a broad and robust set of events fostered under the roof of the think tank Cardus, is a celebration of that moment. It is a thoughtful study of its history. It is a joyful celebration of its present. It is a hopeful legacy for its future.

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