Faith Means Making Choices

This article appears in the July issue of The Be Zine. To see the whole blogazine, click HERE.


“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Merriam-Webster


We all act on faith. Each of us, every day. We make decisions based on ideas and concepts for which we have no proof. We take action based on insufficient evidence about the cause and the effect. This is unavoidable. When are we ever going to have all the information about anything? The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. The more we experience and the more we learn of others’ experiences, the more we realize that possible experiences and conclusions are infinite. None of us is ever in possession of “all the facts”. We are all guessing.

Similarly, we all have delusions. We all look through various lenses, have particular blind spots, and wear custom-made blinders for one reason or another. Sometimes these serve as coping mechanisms to protect us from overwhelming stimuli. Sometimes these simply magnify our ignorance.

Let’s try on an example.

I have to make a decision about how to commute to work in the morning. I have been told that taking the freeway is the fastest route. After all, the speed limit on that road is 55 mph. However, it’s always under construction in the summer. But is speed the best value to consider? Maybe I should not burn fossil fuels and ride my bicycle instead. I will then arrive at work sweaty and tired. There is a bus, but buses are full of germs. But my friend takes the bus, and I could ride with him and chat…And so on.

street scene

The point is, there are a number of ways to get to work and a number of reasons to justify each one. Those reasons may be weighted by experience, by social influence, by practice, by value and by preference. We each make our choices, our decisions, based on incomplete data and bias, but the point is WE MAKE CHOICES. And that is our great freedom, a right of autonomy.

We have the opportunity to make new choices at any time, although they will also be based on incomplete data and bias even when they are made in an attempt to incorporate new information. The dynamic of deciding and re-deciding is perhaps the greatest activity of life for our species. It’s what our big brains are for. But it is a process that does not have a product. We will never get it all figured out. Dogma is unsupportable in the long run, even if it seems beneficial in the short term. We will never, ever arrive at what is absolutely “right”. Perhaps a better pursuit is simply what is “better”.

Where faith turns into action or behavior, we make moral judgments. Based on your beliefs in the moment, you chose what to do. Was that action beneficial? Did it cause harm? If you decide the action was harmful or that acting in that way did not help you to be the person you want to be, you can choose a different action…AND you can choose to change the beliefs that justified your action. A flexible framework allows a lot more options.

Back to our commute example. What if…

Believing that getting to work quickly was the most professional, responsible thing to do, I set off on the freeway. Soon afterward, I ran into road construction. Flag operators stopped my car. The minutes ticked by. I got frustrated, angry, eventually enraged, and I expressed this state of mind by shouting a curse at the flag man and punching the accelerator as I was allowed to move forward. In the process, I rear-ended a car in front of me. Now I have caused insult to the construction worker on the scene, injury to the car and possibly the person ahead of me, and acted like a person I do not wish to become. I can decide to be more careful not to act in anger in the future, and I can decide that getting to work quickly is not an important value so that I’m less likely to feel frustrated when I can’t fulfill that value. I can examine my beliefs and thoughts as well as my actions and make changes in both in order to practice non-harmful behavior more effectively.


This is a simple example. My real life is much more complex. At one point, it involved decisions I made about raising teens to adulthood while my husband was dying of a chronic illness. I realized that acting on my faith sometimes caused me to harm them and to become someone I didn’t want to be. So, not only did I stop the behaviors, I stopped believing the underlying principles that motivated them. I kept wondering if I was “losing my faith”, a phrase that sounded so negative and irresponsible. What I was actually doing was evolving my faith and my self. That, I think, is a very positive and responsible practice. I intend to practice striving for “better” and doing less harm. That’s my new choice, my new faith. 


Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. All rights reserved.

Situational Assessment

Is life a problem to be solved?

I was raised by a very well educated mother who called herself a “domestic engineer” during the 70s when “housewife” was out of vogue and her peers were going out into the marketplace to get paying jobs.  She is a problem-solver, and very good at it.  She can load a dishwasher more efficiently than anyone I know.  She used to draw up construction plans for my house showing ways to add another bedroom or maximize my kitchen space.  She is a very useful person to have in your corner, provided you know what you want and what you consider a problem.   Sometimes her energy would confuse me.  Does my kitchen need to be remodeled?  It wasn’t something I’d considered.

My kids are in their 20s now.  They are making big assessments and decisions about their lives.   Grad school? Marriage? Property? Career?  The problem-solver in me wants to step in and draw up a plan for them.  My wiser self steps back and urges them to draw up their own plans.  My even more philosophical self steps back and says, “Why is this a problem to be solved?”  The only way to answer that question is to know what you want.

I’ll use the photo above as an example.  Some people would take a look at it and think that certain things have to be done.  The bank needs to be shored up and supported, perhaps by concrete, so that the steps can continue.  Some others might say that the steps need to be removed and ground cover planted to prevent erosion.  Some others might say that a more effective barrier should be erected to prevent people from falling off the edge.  And some would say, “Just let it be.”   There’s a stream cutting through here, heading out to Lake Michigan.  People want to get down to the beach from the top of the hill.  Those are the situations.  What do I want?  What is my responsibility?

I want to take photographs.  I want to get down to the beach, but I’m already on the other side of the stream where I’ve found steps going all the way down.  I like this situation the way it is.  To me, it is not a problem to be solved; it is a photo opportunity, a place to be enjoyed.  If there was a two year old who was coming down those steps, it’d be a different story.  But that’s not the situation here, so I don’t have to worry about that, even though I can imagine reasons to worry.  I think I probably do too much of that.

So, kids, when you’re thinking about grad school, marriage, property, career and feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What do I really want?  What responsibility do I want to take on?”  Think of how you want to live life, not just how you will solve problems.   Follow your bliss.  The decisions you make are the threads in the fabric of your life, they will give it texture and variation and interest.  Enjoy creating your very own!

New Year, new goals, new reads

Monday morning, back to work.  Orders for Scholar & Poet Books piled up on our dining room table over the weekend.  We’ll be taking more than 35 packages to the Post Office to be mailed today.  Some are self-help books on diet, procrastination, and clutter management.  Some are theology books, some poetry, some fiction, some children’s books, some history.  Words to buttress a new year of aspirations.  Which words will I apply to my year?

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, really.  The sense of obligation and failure tweaks too much of what I’m trying to outgrow.  It struck me as I was flipping through a book of poetry by a Korean writer that we have our cultural and familial flavors stamped on us pretty early.  Guilt, shame, obligation, work ethic, judgment.  If we are aware and astute, we grow to recognize it.  If we are brave, we engage with it and come to a deeper understanding.  My Anglican family leaned toward perfectionism, rationalism, judgment.  There was always a “right” way to do something.  I want to push myself to get past that kind of assessment  and look more kindly at what is in the world.  I’ve noticed a few things that are: I’m getting older and putting on weight more easily.  Without judging myself too much, I want to be aware of my health and support it.  I’m aware of my desire to write my memoirs.  I want to turn that desire into an artifact.   I’m also aware of my desire to live lightly and gently on the planet.  Without nailing goals to the doors of my consciousness, can I make efforts and decisions that will guide me closer to the life I envision?  We’ll see.

Steve & I finished reading D.H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent, so we set up another book selection.  This is kind of a game for us.  Steve picks a box full of likely candidates and numbers them.  I pick two numbers, look at the books, and choose one.  The reject is then out of the running.  I keep doing this until I’ve gotten down to one book.  This is sometimes an agonizing process because I want to read them all!  This is where I have to tell myself that I can’t make a “wrong” choice.  If we get stuck with something we don’t enjoy, we can always abandon it and choose something else.  If we pass up something intriguing, we can always go back to it.  So, out of 24 books, I came away with Italo Calvino’s The Road to San Giovanni.  I feel bad about putting Rilke’s Letters on Cezanne on the reject stack, but I’ve been dipping into it anyway.  No, I’m not “cheating”.  I am living.  No, I’m not “undisciplined”.  I am feeding myself.  I think of Anne Lamott in Traveling Mercies describing the epiphany she had when she broke through her habits and learned to eat.  It’s not about setting up rules so that you can get neurotic about them.  It’s about feeling a hunger and responding to it.  Choosing what to read, choosing what to eat, choosing how to live.  It can be a simple, graceful process.  Why do we often make it torture?

Joyful possibilities set before us. Happy choosing!