In the technical sense, the story of the keyboard has nothing to do with faith. How could it? Faith … things unseen … and the very tactile keyboard? But in the sense that it’s a story and that it’s about imagination, there might be something. Catherine Ford (Feb 17, Calgary Herald) writes a full column about the QWERTY keyboard … the one we all use today. The typewriter itself was invented about 280 years ago, but that original keyboard tended to jam up because the letters were arranged A-Z. Like the alphabet. Christopher Latham Sholes, 150 years later, calculated that if you more strategically placed the letters – rather than in the alphabetical arrangement – they wouldn’t jam up the arms of the typewriter as easily. It worked and today, even on our computer keyboards, we still use QWERTY, with those six letters in the upper left.
In 1951 they invented the electric typewriter, which eventually speeded up the typing process, but Catherine Ford is fast, and she hopes someone will soon come along (it’s 2021) to re-do Sholes’ keyboard into one that can keep up with really proficient typists. Maybe one that types entire words with one stroke? ( My iphone already does that but it often guesses wrong and I have to fight with it over the words I had wanted to use.) It all looks like a technical issue but over almost 300 years, we’ve moved from the early alphabetical keyboard, to the more fluent QWERTY arrangement, to the electric, faster typewriter, to the computer keyboard (no arms) … and now a call for something even smarter. It’s a story about time and imagination, but also about people who don’t assume we have arrived at the final version, the last word … on how to put words on paper. Catherine Ford has been typing for decades, and she still imagines a smarter keyboard.
Our faith stories don’t have a chronology like the keyboard story does. Faith, in fact, has always been a bit confusing to me. We can believe in things, but faith is something else. It’s relational. It’s about love. It’s not measurable and yet people who are ill are sometimes told they need to have more faith … to be healed. People die, haunted by preachers admonishing them to ‘have more faith’. Jesus said that the size of a mustard seed is all the faith we need … which always makes me wonder why it is that we believers beat ourselves up for having so little and why we try so hard to somehow have more. It defeats us everytime and any sense that we can successfully manufacture more faith is, I think, an illusion. Especially and in light also of what Paul says about it: faith is a gift, not of ourselves (Eph 2).
That we need only a very tiny amount really means that any remote thought in that direction is enough and I’m pretty sure every living human being does have thoughts in that direction. Find one who doesn’t ! We all have enough. Karl Barth calls it the impossible possible because it leaves us with nothing except grace; the faith part … we can’t make it happen. Not really. Which also means that for the topic to even be mentioned by Jesus, impossible as he knew the manufacturing of faith would be for us, probably means that he was simply pointing to the fact that we have, inside our God-embedded DNA, a wish, a thirst, a need for a connection with the Divine … the Creator … YHWH … whatever anyone decides to call our maker. It’s a search for the connection we feel inside of us, whether we are Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Athiest, Muslim, Jewish or of any other ‘search’ with a name. We have the mustard seed; it’s the God part we are born with. Intuitively we long to more fully experience the connection we know is there, and we work at it so hard because it always feels a little out of reach.
The story of what happened in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve is for me, about our faith search. About that sense we have that God is here but also just a bit out of reach and so we ache for a fuller knowledge of God. I suspect the story didn’t happen the way it’s written nor was it meant to be understood like that; was there really a talking, tempting snake in the tree? If the writers were like me, they hated snakes and so their way of writing about our human search for the Divine was with a nasty, slimy tempter to come at Eve with the temptation and yearning that haunts us all. Maybe Genesis 2 and 3 really is a story about our search for a fuller connection with God. A search that hasn’t ever stopped or really changed much.
The search, the ‘groaning for God among us’ (Rom 8) happens inside every human life; God warning Eve and Adam to not eat of the tree of knowledge was perhaps the writers’ understanding about God warning us to resist the temptation to overly define and to assume that we can ‘know’ God. It tempts us all, and some evangelists play far too loose with it. The whole thing, the Genesis story, is an invitation to a faith relationship. A not-knowing-fully relationship. When we become fundamentalist and zealous and all-knowing about how it all works, it messes us up. Like it did Adam and Eve.
Faith is not about having a finished understanding of God nor of how our connection with God works. The keyboard story is about time and imagination. But for me, it’s also a story about not … even after 280 years, settling into having it ‘right’. Faith is like that. It’s never finished, and if we need to have it ‘right’ and complete, it will defeat us and leave us sitting with a jammed up keyboard.