“Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognize it and smile at it,
your fear will lose some of its strength.” — Thich Nhat Hahn
Thich Nhat Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He now lives in the south of France at a retreat center, and is a well known peace activist, poet, and author. And while some would question why I, a Christian, would use a quote from a Buddhist in a blog about faith, I would answer, “Why not?”
Why would I want to close myself off from learning something from someone unlike me? What is to fear in that? I think we are diminished each time we fail in trying to understand those who are unlike us. Compassion is too often lacking in our human discourse.
Which is ironic given that every religion in the world has at its core the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. You might call this the central faith statement of world religions.
Faith. How do you define faith? The letter to the Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
Assurance. Hope. Conviction. Things not seen.
In the film and play “Doubt” the theme was faith. And one of the quotes in drama was, “The opposite of faith is not doubt. It is certainty.”
“What’s the problem with being certain?” you might ask. It might not be a problem, especially if it really means assurance or conviction, and is tempered with compassion. I have the assurance and conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of God. My assurance and conviction is an act of faith. I can’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead. I believe he did, and that because of his death and resurrection the world is renewed, transformed. I live in the hope and joy and love and peace of Christ.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The potential problem with certainty is its resulting arrogance. And judgment. And lack intolerance, especially for other explanations and beliefs. Certainty can create a loss of humility.
And fearfulness. Speaking of fearfulness.
My numbers for the last year are: 18.7, 22.2, 17.0, 17.8, 17.8, 20, 18.2, 16, and 15.7. They represent my elevated white cell count, reminding me I have leukemia. A normal high end white cell count is about 10. But notice the last two counts. My doctors were amazed, and happy. They told me to, “Keep doing what you’re doing!”
I can’t prove this, but I know one of the most important things I’m doing is living faithfully as best I can. Faith in the prayers I am covered with. Faith in the future. Those first numbers led to feelings of fearfulness when I was first diagnosed. All of my hopes and dreams for the future were shaken.
As one of my friends put it, someone who is a cancer survivor, “After a while you get used to the possibility that death is near at hand.” Death is indeed near at hand.
I realized I had a choice, had been given a choice by God through my faith in Christ. I could give up. Or I could keep on living. So I decided to live my life. My new normal.
No, it doesn’t guarantee me anything. When Dr. Aribi said my numbers were really good, that they were going down, I said, “So I don’t have leukemia anymore?” “No, you still have leukemia.” (Darn.) And so I continue to choose to live life. As fully as I can. Faithfully. Knowing that reality, and recognizing it.
And now I just smile at it.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.