Belief and Believing In
by Lori Peterson, Associate Vice President and Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies
A few years ago, I was part of a group of faculty and staff at Augsburg that gathered to reflect on our individual sense of vocation and our collective sense of calling as a College. It was an inspiring, deeply reflective set of days spent reading, thinking, and sharing. One of our culminating experiences was to write a “This I Believe” essay, based on the popular 1950’s radio series hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The exercise of writing and the essays that emerged were powerful. In reflection on the work of writing my essay, though, it seems to me that there is a difference between articulating what we believe (know to be true) and what we believe in. For me, believing in something is the definition of faith.
As I look back at my life, I can see that I’ve spent a fair amount of time and energy in exploration of belief, but feel I’ve spent a lesser amount of time exploring what it means to believe in something [to have faith] and just what it is I believe in. I guess it could be said that I have explored ways to believe in many ‘genres,’ primarily but not exclusively Christian. I was baptized and in early years attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. Then, because my parents felt conflicted in the Missouri Synod, I grew up and was confirmed in a United Church of Christ (Congregational) environment where I sang in the adult choir, taught Sunday school, and in general, enjoyed a sense of belonging to a faith community. During my early college years, I attended Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship gatherings and Assembly of God church services with my roommate – they were just so much more vocal and expressive (e.g., fun) than my staid UCC experience. Soon, however, the novelty wore off and I found myself yearning for a more reflective environment, so I returned to the UCC. Then, as part of the transition to married life (the first round), I agreed to take classes and join the Catholic Church. A conflict of belief related to the practice of the confession (and conflict in the marriage) had me again back at my home UCC church. Fast forward a few years when I was introduced to the ELCA upon moving to Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I’d come full circle back to the Lutheran belief system. In more recent years, experiences such as living in Japan, spending time on the Rose Bud Indian Reservation and teaching business students about religious diversity in the workplace have all allowed me to further explore the belief systems of Shintoism, Buddhism, indigenous spirituality, Judaism, and Islam.
Back to the This I Believe essay I wrote just a few years ago. As part of the essay, I stated that I believe there is comfort that can be present in trial, even the trial of surviving the wrenching death of a daughter; a comfort that does not necessarily provide answers. I did not state specifically where I believe this comfort comes from. What I can say now, upon further reflection and as a product of all of the exploration that I have described above, is I am convicted it comes from some being beyond me and that this being is ultimately benevolent. It is a part of and at the root of all creation. I have met, felt, and heard this being. It is in me and in you; in my dog, cat and horse friends; in my shady basswood tree and the prairie grass that blows in the wind; and it is in the love we share among us. It was made manifest in the personhood of Jesus Christ, and it was present in Mohammed and the Buffalo Calf Woman. It is a holy spirit, and I believe in its presence as a comforter, guide, and wisdom giver.