Faith Is An Egg With A Thin Shell
Faith is a word I hold in my hand, safe in my palm, enclosed by the nest of my upturned fingers. Take faith to the lips: said, spoken, delivered, a birth of song spills from a secret mouth. If you speak faith, the five letters advance with an F, stridently like a French ‘fanfare’, a lawless, troubadour’s marching band. Then the word melts in the wind of aaaith, an elongated, rushing sound. Faith closes with the delicateness of th. Place the tongue, feather-light, by the teeth. Faith, faith, faith.
Rilke said, “Have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
In 1952, my grandfather, a Church of England vicar, kept a notebook, a weekly record of his parishioners, his attempts to convert local people to his faith. On the first page of my grandfather’s notebook is a map, indicating the area he must cover by foot and car: Roding Road, Highland Avenue… His map stretches to the edge of the page. There are doors to be knocked on, questions to be asked, and individuals to convert. Meticulously, he records each visit: Cooks: Old man, old lady Asthma. Dolland: Mrs D’s husband ran off years ago. Twin boys at boarding school. Family maintained by sweet shop. Niece helping? Dipple: God is figment of imagination. Superstition out of which we grow. Freud regarded God as an illusion.
The roots of the word faith are in words that also begin with f: faith, fei, fai from the Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance.”
Van Gogh, wrote, “Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.” They say the difference between faith and belief is that faith is situated in the soul. Van Gogh painted numerous nests, as well as numerous peasant cottages. One day, he wrote to his brother, “The cottage, with its thatched roof, made me think of a wren’s nest.” Perhaps, we could consider faith as a house, a nest for the soul. Faith as that which holds.
On December the 19th 1952 my grandfather visits the family Beacher, notes: Other money. Marriage V-poor affair. Husband had affairs before and after war. She is reliable. Got a job.
He puts a tick next to the name Clark, the same for Ruddock, Perkins, Clark, Don and Shirley. The Martin family, he writes, are promising, Martin was in the Rifle Brigade and was very proud of his regiment.
Faith is an egg with a thin shell, easily crushed. Organized faith is larger than my palm. It is no longer a precious blue bird. A delicate secret. A small diamond. A worn out shoe. A hole in the sole. The meaning of faith, as belief in religious matters, comes from the C14th. Organized religious faith often separates, can lack both trust and confidence. This faith I long to reject, but like a ball thrown against a wall, it keeps on bouncing back to me. Organized faith is in my blood. A queue of missionaries, vicars and bishops preached from the line of bibles, which are now, downstairs, unread on my shelves. Yet, I am an agnostic, and spent my childhood being preached to by communists, another kind of faith. Even so, every Christmas, I hum under my breath, Oh Come All Yee Faithful.
On the 2Oth of August 1952, my grandfather visits the Nicholls family. He writes down Mrs Nicholls words: People are saying that you’ll never go to church again after the Lynmouth disaster.
In a few grim hours, flash floods, boulders and rivers of red Devon soil, had destroyed Lynmouth, a small town, thirty-four inhabitants died. 420 lost their homes. Everything fell apart, Mrs Nicholls says; after Lynmouth how can you have faith?
In my grandfather’s notebook, is a slip of paper announcing: An Address will be given on Faith and Order by Reverend Clutterbuck.
My grandfather was also a missionary. He imposed his faith on others. This faith puts its hand round my throat, chokes my living breath. In my current family we have Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, atheists and agnostics. My children attend a French non-secular school. I organized my mother-in-law’s Jewish funeral ‘shiva’, and four hundred women and men opened the door. We held each other in human warmth, drank tea from the urn and ate slices cut from twenty-five homemade cakes. A few looked at me with judging eyes, when I opened the door, for my face betrayed me, they knew I was a ‘goy’. Not of their faith.
Amongst the scraps of paper in my grandfather’s notebook is his Royal Exchange Car Insurance for his Motor. The first Premium Receipt from the 18th April 1952. Nearly all insurance is based on uberrima fides, meaning upmost good faith and making a full declaration of all material facts in the insurance proposal.
How to declare the material facts of faith?
Faith is stronger than hope. Hope is for the future. Faith means believing in now. Simone Weil wrote that “Attention, to the highest degree, is the same as prayer. It supposes faith and love”. This connection to faith sits in my hand. Attention.
Mostly, I do not want to lose my faith. Faith is life. Faith in the unseen, in the stranger. Faith is in the mystery I cannot know… The globe, the egg. Say the word faith out loud, sing, whisper or shout. The word rushes like water, a river flows. Water tumbles, led by currents and streams, bound by beds and banks. A train leaves a dusky station, weary passengers head for concrete towers, crumbling, city crowded homes, footsteps tread lost country roads lined with teeming hedgerows, rodents and undergrowth, passengers head for desert plains where the sand is a sea. The faith of a dune. A pile of sand without a shell. How does it hold? The world turns. Say the word. Five letters. Faith is a co-ordinate in the landscape of my palm; I look at it. There is something, sometimes, unbearable about faith, because if I lose faith, nothing matters.
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French writer. Co-author of the French novel, L’Hôpital, Le dessous des Cartes (LEH, 2015), she has upcoming/recent work in Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), Repeater Books, ZenoPress, The Creative Review, 3:AM Journal, The Arsonista, Litro and elsewhere. Nominated for Best of The Net (2018) for her non-fiction, her fiction has just been short-listed for the 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Award Competition (judged by Preti Taneja, Elena Lappin and others), and for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. She regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects such as Poem Brut, and currently the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning and the European Poetry Festival. She is represented by Craig Literary, NY. More at: https://susanna-crossman.squarespace.com @crossmansusanna
Featured photo credit: Susanna Crossman