“The first cyclamen – with their little angel wings all flying with joy, though only the first warm quickly-dried drops have visited the earth yet, and it looks as baked and hopeless as ever. ‘Not having received the promises but having seen them afar off’ – that is what they say. God must love that sort of faith just as we love the bits of cyclamen that have greeted ‘afar off’ the coming showers and fought through with their rosy flowers with only the dry brittle tangle of burnt-up grass to protect them from the scorch of the sun.” 23 September 1906
What is faith? Scripture provides a definition: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith holds when proof is not in sight. Faith perseveres when the props are knocked out from under us. Faith sustains when circumstances discourage us.
Faith, like that “first cyclamen” of the season – “with their little angel wings all flying with joy” – depends not on the circumstances. It trusts not in the visible: measured and tested by sight. It trusts in God – “immortal, invisible”- whose character of love is as unchanging as our circumstances are changing.
Frederick Buechner wrote, “Faith is a way of looking at what there is to be seen in the world and in ourselves and hoping, trusting, believing against all evidence to the contrary that beneath the surface we see there is vastly more that we cannot see.” (Room Called Remember)
“Believing against all evidence…” Is that not a perfect set-up for doubt – the very antithesis of faith? Doubt can be an enemy of faith but is it the finish of faith? No. One only has to look at the Hebrew Hall of Faith to discover a collection of motley, marred and, at times, faithless people who in spite of all their ups and downs, successes and failures, soldiered on strengthened by God’s presence and promises. And now, for all posterity, they are “… commended for their faith, yet none received what had been promised.” “Doubt your doubts,” challenged Addison Leitch, noted theologian. Go forward in faith.
How can ones tiny flicker of faith survive assaults both inward and outward? How does one build faith? Faith is rooted in the objective knowledge of God, encountered in the day-to-day routines and realities of living. It is nurtured by communion with a personal God – Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship with other believers – and strengthened as tested and tried by the difficulties of life. “Faith is the supreme effort of your life,” writes Oswald Chambers, “throwing yourself with abandon and total confidence upon God… Faith is absolute trust in God.”
Since viewing Lilias’ lesson, captured by brush and pen in her 1906 diary, the cyclamen has become for me a symbol of faith. Floral offerings in February usually include this plant in shades of rose and pink and red. I, invariably, choose one (or two!) in a delicate shade of pink. A silent parable. Hot house plants, unlike Lilias’ native blooms, they are surrounded by clumps of deep green leaves. But the fragile pink blossoms, suspended on slender stems, speak to me of faith – faith that transcends circumstances: “not having received the promises but having seen them afar off.”
Look to the cyclamen with their “little angel wings all flying with joy.” Look to the heroes of faith “whose weakness was turned to strength.” Look to God who is the beginning and end of our faith. Doubt your doubts. Go forward in faith!
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charitie,
That I may runne, rise and rest with thee.”
George Herbert, from “Trinitie Sunday”
Painting: Diary 24 September 1906