I'm making my way through Harvey Cox's latest book, "The Future of Faith" at the moment. He uses this story to begin a conversation about the difference between faith and belief, which he believes to be a hallmark of the religious age we're carving out:
"The Spanish writer Miguel Unamuno (1864-1936) dramatizes the radical dissimilarity of faith and belief in his short story "Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr," in which a young man returns from the city to his native village in Spain because his mother is dying. In the presence of the local priest she clutches his hand and asks him to pray for her. The son does not answer, but as they leave the room, he tells the priest that, much as he would like to, he cannot pray for him mother because he does not believe in God. "That's nonsense," the priest replies. "You don't have to believe in God to pray."
"The priest in Unamuno's story recognized the distinction between faith and belief. He know that prayer, like faith, is more primordial than belief."
We believe with our heads. Faith lives in our gut. Whether we feel God to be present or absent, we can always return to ritual: to breaking bread, sitting quiet and still, retreating into the rhythm of our breath, singing one phrase, and then the next. The practice leads. Everything else follows.