Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Holding On

The following is my upcoming column in the Saturday, November 16th Shawnee News Star.  All my thanks to Anne Lamott for her most recent Facebook post, and for just being her. 

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord – for we walk by faith, not by sight.
                                         II Corinthians 5:6-7, New Revised Standard Version

            I want to be Anne Lamott when I grow up.  Anne Lamott is a writer.  She is a mother, a teacher.  She is a storyteller.  She is a woman of both a deep and abiding faith and a wickedly irreverent sense of humor.  I love and admire the style of her works of fiction, but it is her non-fiction that has most moved me.  The poignant vulnerability of her essays makes me realize that I’m not alone in how I think and feel. Like I said, I want to be Anne Lamott when I grow up.

            One of her favorite stories to tell is one she heard on NPR many years ago about researchers working with severely autistic adults.  The following is my paraphrase of Lamott’s telling of this story. 

The autistic adults being studied in this research had never been able or willing to walk by themselves.  But the researchers found that if they tied a rope from one end of a room to another, and helped the people they were working with hold onto the rope, these adults could walk the length of the room by themselves. 

            Gradually the researchers used thinner rope, but it didn’t change what happened.  The adults continued walking across the room.  The researchers used laundry cord, twine, then finally fishing line.  As Lamott writes, fishing line is “basically invisible.  But people would still take hold and walk across the room.”  As Lamott remarked, what makes this study so profound is that eventually the researchers would cut the line into 12 inch lengths.  Those lengths were handed to the adults and they were able to walk the room just holding onto those 12 inches of invisible line.  Lamott said that she would give her writing students 12 inches of fishing line.  As I see it, this served as a reminder that everyone needs some sort of line to hold onto, whether walking or writing. 

            I love this story.  Not only because as a writer I need some fishing line to hold onto, but as a person of faith I need some fishing line to hold onto.  Paul wrote that “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  It is beautiful and inspiring rhetoric, but what does it mean?  Certainly, stepping out in faith is about trust.  Yet I think that more often than not I’ve believed that walking in faith is about me walking by myself; a toddler on unsteady legs.  The trust is not so much about the walking, but about believing, hoping, trusting that God will be somewhere out there waiting for me. 

            I wonder if I’ve gotten it all wrong.  Maybe it’s not so much that God is on the other end of this walking by faith and not by sight, but more that God is walking right there with me.  Perhaps it’s not even that God’s hand is on my shoulder, invisible and unfelt, but still there.  Maybe it’s even more than God handing me the fishing line to hold onto as I slowly creep along in faith.  Maybe God IS the fishing line.  Walking in faith is about trusting that the fishing line, that God, is there.  I don’t have to see the line.  I don’t have to see God.  I just have to trust that I am holding onto God and being guided in the direction I need to go.  I just have to trust that I am holding on. 

            In my church office I have an olivewood cross that I brought back from a trip I made to the Middle East when I was a seminary student.  It stands on the bookshelf behind my desk, serving not only as a visible reminder of God’s love through Jesus, but a reminder I can touch.  I think I’m going to cut 12 inches of fishing line and lay it next to the cross; another visible, tactile reminder that I don’t walk this walk alone.  I walk in faith, not by sight, trusting that God is there, a fishing line, and I am holding on. 

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