Among the benefits of reflecting on one's personal faith and the spirituality that flows from it are a deeper appreciation of the roots of our faith and those key experiences that demonstrate that what we believe is both uniquely our own and, at the same time, a reality shared by people of diverse religious traditions. Payak by Dr. Maria Nolita M. Banda is the product of such reflection.
The author is a native of the Philippines, a Christian country surrounded by predominantly non-Christian nations, and a child of Protestant and Catholic parents. She was taught to be open to diverse religious teachings and practices. For her, religion is clearly not the substance of one's faith; it is an organizing system whereby we open ourselves to all things godly, aspire for what is noble, and discover the power that transcends every religious expression.
It was in this spirit of openness that she fulfilled a long-held promise to attend the wedding in Chareidi Country of a dear friend of the Chareidi Orthodox Jewish tradition. Her participation in the events of this celebration, which she vividly describes, became a personal experience of inclusivity that led her to a deeper understanding of the God in whom she believed. This profound awareness prompted a series of blogs written in a style engaging and, at times, poetic that form the content of this work.
Although not a theological treatise, the author's description of her personal faith is an expression of what many theologians would identify as incarnational theology, which emphasizes the role human nature plays in God's plan to embrace humankind. It is this humanity within, by which we live and experience ourselves, that becomes the means by which we engage in our relationship to God. As a consequence, an incarnational spirituality emphasizes the call to human authenticity, which is to be fostered in our relationships with one another and in our engagements with the events of our here and now.
For the author, piety focuses on the humanity of all persons who share the same needs, yearnings, and desires for community. It brings out in us the best of our human nature while providing us with a guide path for living life to its God-intended fullness.
Within that context, the author speaks of her "universal sacraments". While not referring specifically to the sacraments as defined by the Catholic Church or acknowledged in varying degrees by other Christian traditions, the notion of universal sacraments implies that even the most mundane of objects can express the dynamic presence of the Transcendent Being acting in and through the experiences of our daily life.
Tithing is the notion the author uses to describe how we are to acknowledge God's goodness to us and respond to that love by our love for one another. Rooted in humility, marked by prayer and hope, and stemming from a grateful heart, genuine tithing is more than a sharing of one's material assets. it is a comprehensive way of living whereby we are committed to responding in whatever way necessary to those who are in need and to fulfilling those everyday responsibilities whereby we can live with one another in genuine peace and harmony.
Woven throughout the content of this book is an attribute that the author calls payak. A Tagalog expression that literally means "simple", it refers to that humble self-acceptance that gratefully recognizes God as the source of our dignity. It gives us the freedom and the gentleness to be ourselves, an essential ingredient for human authenticity. This freedom opens us to those experiences that come our way that may lead to new discoveries about God, life, and who we are as human persons.
Moreover, this attribute recognizes the God-given dignity of others and calls us to be gentle with one another, to respect the sacredness of others, and to do all we can to enhance their freedom to be themselves. For the author, this spirit, inherent in every genuine religious tradition, is a key to realizing that vision all people of good faith long for, the harmonious and peaceful world described in chapter 11 of Isaiah.
There is much in this book for the reader's prayerful meditation. It also serves as an invitation and an incentive for readers to reflect on their own personal faith. When undertaken with the openness and humble thirst for God exhibited by the author, readers will assuredly recognize the many powerful ways God has been and continues to be present in their lives as they travel along the path to authenticity.