We’ve all known people whose lives have brought challenge, and I mean real challenge—incurable disease, broken relationships, disability, financial ruin, insane accidents of fate dashing dreams into a million broken pieces…and yet…these individuals manage to rise above their challenges and build lives of courageous dignity.
Like you and me, these people have a choice. They could stay at home and hide their gifts or, through the power of faith, spin gold from the ashes of a sorrow-filled life or life-altering tragedy. I believe they choose the latter because they have faith.
What is faith?
Perhaps you prefer the word trust. It will work too.
Paul Tillich, a Protestant theologian, wrote: “Faith means being grasped by a power that is greater than we are, a power that shakes us and turns us, and transforms us and heals us.”
English poet WH Auden describes faith this way: “To choose what is difficult all one’s days, as if it were easy, that is faith.”
There are three kinds of faith: faith in self, faith in other people and faith in the unknown.
Faith in self
During a jazz festival, I witnessed an incredible feat by a banjo player, who shortly after he began playing, had one of his strings break with an audible snap. Without missing a beat, the banjo player began modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his head. When he finished, the audience was on their feet to show how much they appreciated his performance.
The banjo player smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his banjo to quiet the crowd and then said, not boastfully, but in a quiet tone:
“You know, sometimes it’s a person’s task to find out how much you can do with what you have left.”
A hero needs this faith in self. Not an arrogant or boastful faith, but a faith that she or he has the inner gifts and talents to realize a heroic mission in an often bewildering and unsympathetic world.
Faith in others
No hero is “an island entire unto himself.” Indeed, I’ve never met a hero who hasn’t said: “The truth is I couldn’t have done this without the help of…” And this isn’t false humility.
Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen, who became close friends with the world famous trapeze and high-wire family, the Rodleighs, reflected on the faith of a daredevil flyer who lets go of the trapeze to simply stretch out his arms and wait to feel the hands of the catcher pluck him out of the air.
Heroes rarely, if ever, realize their vision on their own. Heroes have faith in those who share a passion for their vision.
Faith in the Unknown
Every hero who embarks on a heroic journey cannot know where it will take him or her. Indeed, whether it’s rescuing someone from a burning building or building an organization to serve orphans in Haiti, heroes leap into the unknown and they do so in the faith that by doing the “right” thing, the universe or “a power greater than themselves” will provide the rest.
A friend shared with me a story he read about a house fire. The father, mother and two of three children fled the fire only to discover that the third child was still in the house. This little boy was suddenly seen on the roof, thick black smoke billowing up in front of him. The father called out to him, “Son I can see you and I’m right down below, all you have to do is jump. Just jump! I’ll catch you!”
“Daddy,” the boy yelled, “I want to jump but I can’t see you!”
“Son, I know you can’t see me, but that doesn’t matter! What matters is I can see you! Now jump!” The boy jumped safely into the arms of his father.
Faith characterizes heroes who can’t see it all or be it all. Faith helps heroes to stand up to what makes the world unjust and uncomfortable--poverty, illiteracy, oppression, fear and even death—and, moved by compassion, act to transform the world.