When I was in my 20’s I was a real California seeker. I attended every kind of spiritual event or retreat I heard of. I went to yoga almost every day, I learned to meditate with Tibetan Buddhists, and I witnessed a 102-year-old shaman healing people. So, when I heard about walking on fire I thought – count me in. So off I went, driving out to the hills above Malibu to walk on fire. When I arrived, there was a seriously dramatic 10-foot-tall pile of wood raging with flames shooting into the evening sky. It was intimidating – I tell you!
We sat down and listened to a lecture about our unlimited capacity to overcome limitations. Sort of a mind over matter talk. I remember being distinctly unimpressed with the presentation and questioning the whole operation. After about an hour of roaring fire the team knocked down the still burning wood and spread it out in a long wide rectangle at least 15 feet long. We all took off our shoes and socks and lined up for our turn to walk the red-hot glowing coals of fire. I did feel particularly connected to the group or even supported in this crazy endeavor.
As my turn came closer, I remembered what I had seen Tony Robbins – who was the sort of rock star version of this – had said to his group. He had told the group that they needed to control their mind by silently saying to themselves, “Cool Moss, cool moss, cool moss.” As soon as I said this to myself I felt like the souls of my feet were responding. I know this sounds weird, but I did. My feet felt cool and even invincible.
So off I went – I walked with determination but not running. They told us to walk at a steady pace because running digs your feet into the coals. Off I went walking calmly on red hot coals.
I was doing good (“Cool moss, cool moss”), and I suddenly realized that it was working. That distraction instantly broke the spell and zap! A sharp pain and terrible burn shot through the soul of my right foot sending alarms and adrenaline into my whole system.
I took another two steps and got off the coals quickly as possible and limped off to examine the damage. Everyone besides me was congratulating themselves and sort of thrilled by overcoming the fear. They were high on the accomplishment, and they avoided me, who was not celebrating but was hurting and unhappy. I felt like a failure.
I had a nasty third-degree burn. It took a long time to heal this deep burn in the soul of my foot.
If you are interested in this rather crazy activity, you can look at you tube and see Tony Robbins leading thousands of people including Oprah Winfrey through firewalking as a way to face fear and, as it says on his website, “Unleash the power within.” They all look very exuberant at their accomplishment.
I tell all this because I can relate to Peter wanting to step out of the boat and walk on the water. He is filled with excitement at what he is witnessing. Everything was going fine until he, like me, lost his focus and turned his thoughts to the wind and the danger. His faith slipped and he went from Jesus oriented to danger oriented, and in that split second, he sank into the sea.
I think we can all relate to the feeling of invincibility that we feel when we feel connected to God; our faith brimming over. The wonderful feeling that nothing can get us down. It would be nice to spend more of our lives feeling that strong sustaining faith, wouldn’t it?
The question I have for us today is how do we create enduring faith? How do we develop the capacity to keep our eyes and faith in place focused on Jesus?
Just as every preacher does – to answer this for us – I googled enduring faith and this is what I found:
1. Remember what God has already done for us. It is easy to skip over the beauty that God has revealed in our lives and focus on the losses. But holding the beauty in our hearts is like a gratitude list, which we all probably know by now is proven to be healing. If we can cherish the little as well as the big miracles we have witnessed it will sustain our trust. We need to hold these memories in our hearts like precious jewels.
2. Focus on following God’s will in the present. Some may wonder how we know what is God’s will in our life. In the monastery we let the emotions speak to us as this is a sign of God’s will. Does this idea or intention light you up and make you feel inspired, or does it feel heavy and dense? These are good ways to discern God’s will.
3. Eliminate what is unnecessary. This is a call to simplicity, to reducing the demands that pull us out of balance and out of relationship with God. There are so many things we engage with that pull us away from our faith. Maybe it is a time to refocus our lives on basics and stop the rat race for more and more and more.
4. Do the things that strengthen you spiritually. This is why in the monastery we ring the bell and gather in the chapel multiple times a day to pray. But you don’t have to live in a monastery to take time in your day to pray or meditate. Our beautiful Book of Common Prayer has a whole section on lovely daily prayers just like those prayed in a monastery. Have you always wanted to learn to meditate? Do you take time in nature? To listen to beautiful and inspiring music?
5. Help others through this process. This needs no explanation. We all know how uplifting it is to be generous with others who may be struggling with their faith. Faith grows with service to others.
I know in my heart that everyone can find enduring faith. Even those of us who have suffered great losses. We can cultivate a life of faith. If it is important to you and you pray for it, it will be yours. And no one can take that away from you. And if it slips and you sink Christ will be there to reach out his hand and lift you up.
I just want to end with this: My mother was a woman of great faith, an Episcopalian in fact. I had the honor of spending the last 3 weeks with my mother before she died. The last time she was conscious she spoke to her three beloved grandsons. Her face was radiating with love as though she were halfway to heaven. She said to the boys, “You have to have faith.” This was the message she wanted to leave with them. She was willing this message right into their hearts. Life with faith is a beautiful thing. To feel God with us at all times is a blessed way to walk through life.
So let us all seek this, to live enduring faith knowing that God is with us always until the end of time.