Reader David Moriah wrote a heartfelt comment in response to my previous post on “Is the Center No Longer Holding?” I offer it to you here as a prelude to a brief meditation of my own, because I believe, among the various important points he raised, none is more vital and literally noteworthy for our time than the implications of the “faith” that he sketches with the powerful imagery that he does.
His comment in full:
“I have reached a stage in my life and amidst the accelerating centrifugal forces at loose on the planet when I surrender to my inability to forecast where we are headed. There are times when I sense an impending darkness capturing more and more of the globe, and most disturbingly many of the supposedly enlightened corners that have been cleansed of tribal lunacy by liberal democracy and both secular and religious messages of tolerance and good will toward all. There are times when I am comforted by the long ebb and flow between tyranny and human rights and dignity, thinking perhaps “this too shall pass.” We survived Richard Nixon didn’t we? And then there are times when I can, for the first time in . . . how many decades has it been? . . . see the world explode into nuclear war or some unimaginable ecological catastrophe as the fools who could have prevented such happenings check the stock market before they burn or drown with the rest of us. Ah, such a cheery spring message. I used to be a white water canoeist and I remember the advice was always to keep on paddling, furiously if necessary, as the ferocious power of the white water washes over your boat. You may indeed drown in the current, but you will at least go down nobly giving your best effort till the end. In today’s Trumpian dystopia I choose to go down paddling—writing letters, making phone calls, organizing, marching. And ultimately, I do believe the triumphant message sung countless times by our brothers and sisters of the civil rights movement—’We Shall Overcome!'”
To “keep on paddling, furiously if necessary”—this is the key, yes? Despite the very live possibility, anytime you are in whitewater, that you may drown anyway, your efforts coming to naught.
Faith is not “believing” in any outcome.
It is not “If I do such and such, thus and so will happen.”
It is not a matter of saying the right words, reading the right book, joining the right group, snagging the perfect job or spouse or flash of sky on a glorious spring day.
It does not require you to adopt the right practice, find the right teacher, swallow the prevailing dogma, or any dogma at all.
When you are in whitewater—and let’s face it, all of us are in whitewater, all the time—nothing you believe or have done in the past may save you.
You may have trained and read and bowed and fasted and marched and loved and believed—and you may still die, your boat pummeled, swamped, upturned by forces beyond your control.
Puny you, in the end.
What does whitewater know or care about your continued existence? About as much as a nuclear bomb does.
While you are in that current, with the threat of death curling its cold unfeeling fingers under your boat, you have a choice to make, and it is a choice about faith in the most fundamental sense.
Not that you will save yourself.
But that paddling is the only thing that might.
Paddling is, in this moment, all you have.
It is all there is to believe and live in, right now, here.
Paddling is striving, struggling, working, moving. (It is also terrifying and exhilarating, a peculiar joy quiet under the terror.)
It requires all that you have, all that you are, in the total, committed presence of the here and now.
It is, in a word: prayer.
I paddle because I am, because I am here, in this current, and I have some control I can exert, unless and until I can’t.
And until I can’t, paddling is what I do.
It is all I ever do, all I ever am.
Paddling sunders the wall between the “I” and the “do,” making them indissoluble in this current.
Paddling is faith in action, and truth to tell, faith without action is no faith at all.
Not faith that something in particular will happen.
Faith is the happening itself as I take action, because my own action, diminished as it might ultimately become by forces beyond me, is all I am left with, all I have, all I am.
Right up until my last breath.
Until then, I paddle on.
This note of hope and inspiration brought to you by…Charles Bukowski???
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Deep appreciation to the photographers!
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hand paddling photo near top of page by Wolfgang Tönschmidt, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at https://www.flickr.com/photos/wolftone/
Whitewater kayaker photo from stock agency by Darren Baker.