Living by Faith
In the fall, I went to a conference for school librarians (since, you know, I am one of those now). Somewhat bizarrely, the event was held at a maritime institute. It was a really interesting place, library stuff aside, and during one of the breaks I wandered into a small museum. Amongst the model ships and old photos (of ships, naturally) was an old trade journal for masters mates and pilots. Curious, I bent over the glass case, studying the pages, and was surprised by the association’s motto, embedded in their logo. Faith is a living power.
At first I was taken aback to find such a religious statement in a sailor’s museum, but the more I chewed over the whole thing, the less shocking it seems. After all, sailors, especially in the age of sail and steam, had good reason to need faith. Navigation was basically an act of trust. Trust in your tools, your mates, in the weather. Even today, with satellite assistance, bad conditions can give any mariner pause. If you’ve ever been on a boat in a heavy storm, when the sky and sea are the same roiling black and every rain drop seems to have malice in its heart, you know what I mean. It doesn’t much matter how big your boat is, what gadgets are on board, there will always be a bigger storm, a shoal not marked on the chart. You can prepare and study for weeks, but sometimes the sea demands her due, and the only way you can survive payment is through faith.
It’s hard to mull this reality over (to say nothing of the metaphor) and not think about Jesus walking on water. As Matthew tells the story, when Peter realized what was happening, he dashed out onto the waves to meet the Master. Once the fisherman (and sailor) saw what he was doing, he started to sink. Jesus lifted him up, saying “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” When Peter hopped the gunwale, his whole focus was on Jesus, running out to meet him. When he started to sink, it was because his focused had changed. It’s easy to imagine him thinking “What am I doing?” He suddenly knew he was in a situation beyond his abilities, and he panicked. I can’t walk on water! How did I even get here? Of course, it was never Peter’s physical characteristics which took him over the water. In that moment, Peter’s faith was a living power, and it let Jesus lead him to somewhere totally unexpected, somewhere he never could have gone on his own.
That’s how it is with faith, at least in my experience. When it’s strong in me, I feel like I can do anything because I remember it’s not really me doing it. When I am disciplined enough to take the focus off my own paltry abilities, I can let God give direction, even when I don’t know where He’s leading me. In those times, I have peace and joy, regardless of circumstances. The world is loud, though, and it clamors for my attention. Like Peter, I see the wind, remember that I’m in over my head, and panic. I can’t solve this. I don’t even know how I got out here! In recent months, this sailor’s motto has become a rallying cry for me, a touchstone the reminds me to stop looking for faith in myself. Yes, I have to be the one to stand, the one to jump out of the boat. Ultimately, though, it is my trust in God which will carry me forward.
There are storms that seem so huge, so black and wild, that I can’t see any way around them. I am not bigger than these storms, but God is, and my faith gives Him the chance to set my course rightly. Like any living thing, though, faith needs tending. If I don’t refresh it, replenish it, give it the attention it needs, it can be snuffed out in an instant. That’s what struck me so powerfully about the motto above. It subtly asserts that faith is more than a merit badge which proclaims your Christianity; it’s not something you are, but rather something you must do. In Romans 1, Paul says “the righteous will live by faith.” And just as it takes an effort of will to truly live each day, to be a part of this great world, so too we must work to have a life constantly piloted by faith.