Thursday, June 28, 2007

the meaning of faith

we live in a world of empiricism, driven by numbers and units and quantities and measures and things we can see and feel or taste and smell. if we can't count it, if we can't grasp it, then it is something not deemed to be of this world.

we are taught that we need to live in the world of the real, and that the real is only that which we can hold in our hands and lift to our eyes and burden ourselves by its presence. anything else is discounted as imagination, coincidence, or outright fabrication. as such, it is not to be believed, and we are told instead that the only things we can believe are those things that lie within our reach.

and so we live within this paradigm, and follow it through our days, and it is reflected in everything we do, including the days we work, the quantities we eat, the nights we sleep, the distance of our swims and duration of our rides, the intensity of our runs and the volume of our weights, even so far as the length of our strides and arc of our strokes and cadence of our steps and rate of our hearts and chemistry of our bodies. all of it, a world of measures of quantities of units of calories of kilometers and kilograms and liters, so that we can arrive at a final single measure: the finishing time of a race.

so often, we are told this is the ultimate measure we can believe, simply because it is the greatest thing within our reach.

but there comes a time in every race when such things do not matter. there comes a point in every race for which there are no units or quantities or measures, and when the equations and values for distance, duration, intensity, energy, volume, velocity, and time are found to be nothing more than numbers...and the numbers are not everything.

it's when our muscles ache and burn and cramp and seize. it's when our sinews strain and stretch and rupture and pull. it's when the bones crack and pound and throb. it's when the joints split and grind and stab. it's when the sweat pours and salts the skin and soaks the clothes and stings the eyes. it's when the vision clouds, then blurs, and then turns to an abyss of black.

it's when, despite our hunger, despite our wish, despite everything we do, the limbs buckle, contort, and stagger, heedless to our desire or command. it's when the spirit flags, then drops, then wilts, and then crumbles on the path.

it's when the mind no longer calls, the body no longer answers, and the soul is left alone in the endless expanse of distance as eternal as only those things that lie beyond our reach can be.

it's at these times that we find that numbers and units and quantities and measures will not help us...they can't. they were only meant for a world of the empirical; these times, these moments, are a world of so much more.

it's at these times that we are left with nothing--at least, nothing that can be held in our hands or lifted to our eyes or burdened upon us by its presence. all we have is the belief that we can continue, even when there seems no way. all we have is the belief that we can move onward, even when it seems utterly futile. all we have is the belief that we can reach beyond ourselves, even unto the farthest reaches of the distance.

it's at these times that we learn just why it is we must believe: because there are times when it is all we have, because there are times when it is the only thing that will sustain us, because it is the one thing that will carry us through distances as great as all eternity.

it's then that we realize just what it is that is truly real, and just what it is that makes the world: it's more than just numbers or units or quantities or measures; it's things that lie beyond.

and among those things is faith. and the meaning of faith is to believe even when there is nothing to believe.

because it's the only way we'll ever be able to find the finish, with a meaning far more than just a time.

2 comments:

MelAndrews said...

Jonathan,

Hey there. Enjoyed reading your blog. I was working on an art project, researching the word "faith" when your article came up.

I would have to disagree with your statement, "the meaning of faith is to believe even when there is nothing to believe."

IMO, faith is trust in supporting evidence when we don't have concrete proof, or physical evidence. For example, if I take a flight from LA to Chicago, I have faith the plane will get there safely based on evidence...the number of safe arrivals vs crashes, the engineer that designed the plane and its track record, the maintenance performed on the plane to keep it in top shape, the experience of the pilot and crew, etc. I have no concrete proof or physical evidence that will prove to me I will safely reach my destination, but I put trust/faith in the evidence of flight travel, which means there is something to believe in.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your take on faith and I agree to an extent. I think most people first experience true faith when that is all they have left. Hopefully it then grows to a firm belief in what one hopes and desires to be true. Further positive evidence then helping that faith become stronger.