Faith and Effort

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          A parent wanted to teach their child about faith and effort–and the relationship between them. Parent and child walked to a nearby lake where a rowboat gently floated. The small boat contained two oars: one oar had the inscription “faith,” and the other, “effort.” Parent and child climbed into the boat, and the parent rowed out to the middle of the lake. 

          “Now I’d like you to row,” the parent told the child. “But I’d like you to use nothing but effort.” The parent nodded to indicate the oar with this label.

          The child obliged and used this oar to row, which made the boat begin to go in circles. After a moment of this, the parent told the child to stop. “This time I’d like you to use nothing but faith.”

          And so the child began to row with only this oar, causing the boat to now circle in the opposite direction. The parent waited another moment before telling the child again to stop. “Please row both oars at the same time–a little faith and a little effort. Together.” 

          As soon as the child began to row in this way, faith and effort piercing the water in synchronized strokes, the boat’s path righted itself. Without hesitation, it moved directly forward; when the parent urged the child to row with both oars a little quicker, the boat continued to travel straight ahead, but began to do so more quickly. It soon became clear to the child that the only way for the boat to continue moving directly forward was to use faith and effort with the same intensity. If the child used even slightly more faith than effort, or more effort than faith, the rowboat veered off-course. The times that faith and effort were just incommensurate, the boat would again begin to go in circles.

          After some time, the parent told the child it was time to return to shore. The child rowed the boat back, understanding that the most direct way to their destination would be with faith and effort in equal measure. 

~A  parable adapted from the Sant Mat practice

An artist I know told me this story in the spring of 2011. It resonated with me–instantly and intensely. The story of faith and effort seemed to simultaneously address long-standing queries of mine (regarding fate vs free will, and prayer vs prerogative) as well as nudge me in a more fulfilling, and fruitful, way to handle personal struggles. It has truly become the compass of my conscience; I often murmur “faith and effort” to myself as a reminder of which way is forward.

Strangely, though, it wasn’t until a bit over a year after I heard this story that I recognized how profoundly it applies to issues so much more immense, so much more important, than my own. Apathy. Bigotry. Disease. Indigence. Pollution. Violence. Perhaps I needed that time for my beloved mantra to ruminate in my spirit in order for me to fully fathom: this universal truth that I had adopted as my personal truth is also my personal truth of what is universal. These common, comprehensive concerns that degrade the quality of life for us all (whether they directly impact us or not), that make an individual, a family, a community, a nation, a world desperate for justice–is it possible that faith and effort can remedy them, too? Is it possible that if we, humankind, collectively dedicated our own faiths and efforts to bringing this world the integrity it and we and you and I so deserve, that it might just happen?

I think so. I believe in that trust we carry within of what goodness could come, and I believe in that energy we exert to make such goodness manifest. And so, here I submit my chronicles of my own experiences and reflections as I travel the waters of a world en route to concord. While they are only the stories of a single rower in a single boat, they are the stories of a rower who has floated and floundered in tandem with numerous other rowers along the way.

They are also the stories of a rower who paddles with faith. And effort.


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