The phrase is used so often -- a leap of faith. We're told that life -- and particularly the spiritual life -- requires us to take leaps of faith. It's not entirely clear, though, just what people mean by that. And it can be really hard to do something if you don't know, really, what you're doing.
In his classic book Thoughts in Solitude, the Trappist monk Fr. Thomas Merton wrote a poem which I have always thought to be one of the most fully honest prayers I've ever heard. (Alongside Meister Eckhart's famous assertion about the two-word prayer,"Thank you.") Here's what Merton had to say:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”My Lord God ... I have no idea where I am going. Do you see why I say it's such an honest prayer? I have no idea where I'm going, which is true for all of us, isn't it? Even when we think we know where we're going, the truth is that we don't. As the Scottish poet Robert Blake famously put it in his poem, "To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough" -- "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, / Gang aft agley," That translates as, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray," and, as they say, ain't that the truth!
So ... whether we know it or not, whether we're willing to acknowledge it or not, every choice we make is a leap of faith.
Yet there are times when we know we're taking that kind of a leap. We can clearly see the chasm before us, and we can't see the other side. Truth be told, we aren't even entirely sure that there is another side, or, if there is, that it's within jumping distance.
Bridges are good for this. Last Sunday I shared reflections about bridges at the congregation I serve for our annual "Bridging Ceremony" at which we recognize our graduating high school seniors, and mark their transition from "youth" to "young adult." (I posted it this blog on Monday.) I noted that bridges are good for getting us from here to there in our lives. I showed a slide of the Golden Gate Bridge with the far side obscured by fog. You know it's there, of course, yet from what your senses show you, you could be forgiven for not really knowing for sure. (And when using the bridge as a metaphor, the inability to see, and be sure of, the other side is even more profound.)
Faith that the bridge is there even when you don't see for certain where it's taking you (or even if it is taking you somewhere) -- that can be hard. Still, if you trust the bridge (literal or symbolic), even though it's scary you can take that step. In a similar vein, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Here too, an encouragement to trust the bridge, or staircase, even if you can't see the whole thing.
This is unquestionably hard, to move forward in spite of not being able to know what lies ahead. It is not, though, a true leap of faith. (Just as every time of spiritual struggle is not a "dark night of the soul.")
The image above comes from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At one point he finds himself facing a deep and uncross-able chasm, yet knows that he has to get to the other side. (n this case he can see the other side, but there's no bridge to be found. A text that has been guiding him, though, which has been right so far, suggests that there is. This is the last of three challenges, three tests, which were put in place to ensure that only the most truly worthy can get to the Holy Grail. This one says, "Only in the leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth." And, so, he steps. The bridge suddenly reveals itself.
This is a leap of faith, though, because even though you can see the other side, you can't see any way of getting there. There is no bridge. We're back to seeing that chasm and not seeing anyway of crossing it, yet knowing that we have to. I'll pick this up on Monday.