Faith Is Not Performance Art
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
For myself, I do not like public expressions of faith.
Partly, this is just who I am. I am by nature a private person. I prefer to keep most things to myself, and I am not one who seeks always to be the center of attention. My prayers, my meditations, my spiritual practices are not things I do for others, but simply for me.
Yet I am also keenly aware that faith, in order to be faith, must be sincere. Faith, in order to be faith, must be done for faith’s sake. Faith, if it is faith, is not about winning friends, or being popular, or standing in the spotlight. The true moment of faith occurs between the individual and God, and no other.
Such personal moments are difficult to achieve in a public setting. The inherent intimacy within such moments all but demands privacy.
This does not mean public expressions of faith are wrong. A moment of collective prayer can be a unifying experience, and can help foster a sense of community and a larger sense of family. Such communal moments are part of how we bond ourselves with the community around us, how we establish belonging. These are good things, and we are right to cherish them.
Further, there is no denying that faith, in order to be faith, must exist wherever one is, be it in public or in private. If our faith is sincere, if our faith is honest, our faith is the same at work as it is at church as it is in the sanctity of our homes. If we hide our faith from others, we are not being true to our faith, and we are not being true to ourselves.
Faith can be ritual—and frequently is ritual. For many an important exercise of faith can be morning and evening prayers. For the bulk of Christians regular church attendance is an essential expression of faith. Such rituals are often vital in cultivating the habits of faith which allow us to live out that faith naturally and organically throughout each day.
What faith can never be is performance art. Faith does not demand an audience. Faith does best when there is no audience. Faith needs no applause, and no acclimation. In a crowd or in total isolation, faith remains the same.
Performance art cannot exist without the audience. If there is no applause, if there is no acclimation, there is no performance and thus no performance art. Performance art changes from crowd to crowd, and vanishes in total isolation.
Yet performance art can also be ritual, or at least ritualistic. Most people have heard the expression “phoning it in”, where a person engages in activity more or less by rote, with little energy and enthusiasm.
When we do the rituals of faith with little energy or enthusiasm, are they rituals of faith, or merely “phoned in” indulgences of performance art?
When we do the rituals of faith in public and turn to see if others like what we have done and what we have said, are they rituals of faith or ritualistic expressions of performance art?
If we scorn rituals of faith when in public that we would do in private, is that mockery itself a performance piece denying our faith?
When it comes to the rituals of faith, do we care more about the opinions of our fellow human being or the approval of the Almighty?
Faith is not performance art, but the distinction lies not in the outward action but the inward intention. In matters of faith, why we do what we do is far more important than what we do. If the reason for our public prayers, our visible fastings, our acts of charity is the goodwill and acclaim of our fellow human beings, these acts, however seemingly good they are, are merely pieces of performance art. They are not acts of faith.
Only the individual person can ever know the inward intention behind any public presentation of faith, whether that public presentation is sincere faith or cynical performance art. That inward intention is as individual as the human giving the presentation.
For performance art is what we do for the love of people. Faith is what we do for the love of God.
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