National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Starting Point
Issue Date:  May 16, 2003

Stumbling into faith


Watching me from afar, you could easily be led to believe that I have a nervous twitch. Actually, my son Brendan is learning how to walk. Whether inside avoiding the hazards of home or outside navigating the enticements of nature, each step is a perilous one -- not necessarily for him, but for me.

As he walks, my body and face go through all kinds of distortions and contortions, imagining what can or eventually does happen to him. My jaw locks, neck tightens, knees buckle, fists clench. Trying to keep up with him, my body is one sudden jerk followed by another.

Each step is an experience. He’ll wobble one way, then the other, trying to maintain his balance. Eventually, gravity wins out though, and he falls. Seeing this take place time after time, I feel like a boxing manager wanting to call out to his fighter, “Stay down! Stay down!” Brendan doesn’t listen, though. Just when I’m ready to throw in the towel, he keeps going.

He’s a sight to behold. Usually, he has “strawberries” on both knees. His arms and legs alternate days as to which one has a scrape or bruise. Outfits are no match as they’re quickly replaced by others because of grass stains and mud. Finally, his hands look like those of a bricklayer, the result of frequent falls and washing (thanks goodness for antibacterial soap!).

Seeing all this happen right before my very eyes, I’m reminded of an old Jewish legend. In it, after the long and hard journey out of Egypt and slavery, the Israelites find themselves facing the Red Sea. With the Pharaoh’s soldiers pursuing them from behind and a wall of water in front of them, the people are filled with fear. At this point, Moses stretches out his staff and commands the water to part. Except it doesn’t. Only when the first person jumps into it does the promised miracle occur.

Like that first brave soul, Brendan too “walks by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Far from paralyzing him, adversity emboldens him. Each shaky step taken gives him confidence in a reality that is not yet present. The American poet Emily Dickinson seems to capture his journey well when she writes:

Faith slips -- and laughs, and rallies --
Blushes, if any see --
Plucks at a twig of Evidence --
And asks a Vane, the way --
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit --
Strong Hallelujahs roll --
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth --
That nibbles at the soul ...

In the midst of world conflict and war, watching Brendan learn to walk is quite comforting. Though seen by some as such, it is by no means an escape from the harsh honesty of the supposed real world.

Driving, tripping, falling toward meaning, toward life, he walks. Instead of chaos and despair, Brendan sees hope and promise. Staying down is not an option. He has faith --“an assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Unfortunately, this faith is so lacking today.

We need stumbling children now more than ever.

Mike Daley is a writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati. He recently edited, with Bill Madges, Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories.

National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 2003

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