“How’s your faith?” It’s a question President George W. Bush once asked David Gregory, then the host of “Meet the Press” on NBC. It’s perhaps not a typical question from the president of the United States, but then again, it’s just about the most important question a person can ask another. We don’t all have faith in God, or our faith in God doesn’t always look the same, but what brings us peace? What wakes us up in the morning? Is it more than obligation? Is it love? Is it gratitude?
As Gregory describes it in his new book, “How’s Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey”: “I became a seeker during a momentous time in the world and in my career. I was covering the White House for NBC News during a period of war and highly charged politics. In the terrible days and months after 9/11, I watched President George W. Bush make the decision to involve our country in two wars. Whether his decisions were right or wrong, they were some of the toughest calls a leader can face.”
When President Bush asked Gregory the question that would become the title of an unexpected book, the newsman found it “startling and memorable” to be asked such a thing by a president, “especially because, as a White House reporter, I was known for asking tough questions of that president and for pushing him hard in press conferences.” Apparently President Bush had heard from a friend that Gregory had “started down a path of religious exploration” and “he was curious about it.”
Reading of Gregory’s experience reminded me of one of my own interactions with the president, not long after he was out of office. He had written his memoir, “Decision Points,” which detailed in part how his own faith informed his responsibilities and decisions. What became clear in Bush’s memoir was a faith that was more than a “sense of comfort” and a “safe harbor,” as Gregory had once described it in a question to a Republican presidential primary candidate a number of cycles ago. It was, as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once described his own faith to me, calling it his “North Star.” It guided, inspired and humbled him, giving him more strength and power than any elected office or esteemed position in the world.
In “Decision Points,” Bush writes about how a conversation with Billy Graham in the summer of 1985 “had planted a seed,” making “the soul less firm and the brambles less thick” at a time in his life when he decided to quit drinking. He started reading the Bible and began to understand what a life of faith meant: “I came to realize that struggles and doubts are natural parts of faith. If you haven’t doubted, you probably haven’t thought very hard about what you believe.”
In the book, he explains how “prayer was the nourishment that sustained me.” He also points out that although God works on him, making him a better man, “self-improvement isn’t really the point of the Bible. The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ.” We are made for more than this world, and we ought to live like that’s the case.
These are the kinds of questions and reflection that this time of year lends itself to. Anytime of year should prompt this sort of thing, truth be told, but the calendar does provide a convenient nudge. We are people who don’t look away from our phones or slow down often. Give shopping, parties and running around a break, and give yourself a gift of spiritual meditation.
I’m amused at the Dunkin’ Donuts advertisements that urge you to “share the joy.” I won’t deny that if you bring a dozen or so doughnuts to work, you’ll bring some cheer, or at least a possibly needed sugar rush. But true joy — the knowledge of God’s transcendent love — is transformative in the extreme. So while Christmas shopping or holiday partying, take a moment to ask, “How’s your faith?” Does it mean something more than a calendar date or an obligation or a consoling ritual? Would anyone ever know it from the way we live?
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com