So, without defining the word "faith" in that sentence in any kind of religious or spiritual sense, what does the statement mean to you? Why might it be important to your life?
Some of us, like me who has the strength of Futuristic--the ability and drive to paint a clear picture/vision of a preferred future in a way that is compelling and inspiring--are inclined to dream a lot, and spend time defining the dream, outlining it, specifying it, clarifying it, painting it in as great detail as possible. Our temptation is to stay in that mode of thinking to the exclusion of doing the work of taking steps to get that vision. It's the tendency to live in the clouds of dreams and vision without ever getting back to earth where the actual steps have to be taken. We want to make sure we have all our ducks lined up in a row lest we jump "too quickly."
So King's statement is a powerful nudge. Faith is first about taking a step toward the dream. Moving forward, even by one step. Faith is fundamentally a willingness to move ahead rather than sitting still to wait for more complete information.
Reflection: Are there any places in your life where you find yourself stuck, sitting still rather than moving forward? Can you determine why you're not moving ahead? Are you waiting for something? What? More information? A more complete picture of where you think you're going? Are you afraid of taking a step? Why? What's keeping you from forward momentum?
Notice the second dimension of faith in King's statement. Faith moves ahead even when the whole picture isn't clear yet. You don't have to see the whole staircase in order to take the step. There's an emphasis in this definition of faith away from the future back to the present.
The January 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler highlighted an unusual cultural exchange between a 30-year-old Maasai warrior from the Serengeti and high school students, led by 55-year-old librarian Paula Busey, in Littleton, Colorado. The kids raised money to bring this Maasai warrior to their community where he taught them about his culture and his people's wordview. Our core value, he said, is to work at preserving communities and traditions. And then he gave a significant observation:
"American kids are obsessed with becoming adults, with finishing university and starting to work. I understand they have anxieties. But I tell them the Maasai don't think about tomorrow. We just try to make today excellent. And if today is excellent, tomorrow will come."
Imagine living life more like that--refusing to constantly be thinking about the "tomorrows" in everything we do. Imagine learning the art of living in the moment. Experts call this Mindfulness (I think MLK was using the word "faith" for the same concept)--being fully present in the moment--savoring your one step--choosing not to allow the constant mental chatter and obsession with what's next or what's coming up or how am I doing with all of my "stuff," to affect this present moment--to discover and savor the beauty of this moment, this little step.
Reflection: One of the great mantras for this mindfulness practice is, "In this moment, I have everything I need." Say that to yourself a few times. What does it feel like? Does it feel foolish to you? Why or why not? Try making this a regular saying you repeat at different moments throughout the day. See what that does to your attitude and presence.
It's not to say that the future isn't important. We all have to plan ahead. But our human tendency, especially in our culture, is to obsess on the future and it's every known detail. And then to worry about the details we're sure must be important but we just can't seem to see or anticipate yet. Either way, we're losing out--because we're not appreciating what is here right now, in this moment. We've consigned ourselves to living in worry and anxiety over things that haven't even happened yet.
But here's the reality: Yesterday is gone forever; tomorrow hasn't even happened yet; the present is all we have. Why ruin it?
You don't have to see the whole staircase to take your first step.
Remember Indiana Jones in the scene from The Last Crusade where he brings his group to the edge of the precipice? They have to get to the other side but the chasm that separates them is wide and deep. Impossible to bridge.
Indiana Jones pulls out his notebook which contains the map and instructions, finds their current location, and suddenly realizes that there's an unseen bridge that actually spans the chasm. But it will only appear once you take the first step. Would you take that step, even if you couldn't see the whole bridge?
He holds out one foot over the dark abyss. Then he lowers that foot down into what looks like pure air and space ... and leans into it. Suddenly, his foot touches something and immediately the entire bridge materializes into view. And the group inches its way across the divide to the other side.
Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.
Reflection: What would it be like for you to follow the Maasai tradition of not thinking about tomorrow but just trying to make today excellent? How would that attitude and intention impact the quality of your present moment? What faith do you have that will embolden you to stick your foot out over what feels like an empty abyss and set it down even when you can't see clearly ahead? What is one even small step you are being nudged to take right now, in this moment, that you need to take?
There's a reason why all religious traditions refer to mindfulness as a spiritual practice. It's a discipline that has to be developed. It takes practice. Serious intention and choice. Over and over and over again.
Think of all the great social and spiritual movements in this world that would never have materialized had this concept of faith not been acted upon. Martin Luther King, Jr., who made this statement, was one of the greatest visionaries in the world. His "I Have A Dream" speech painted a powerful vision of a future he longed for. But he never completely knew the future, in every detail. There were outcomes he never anticipated. There were moments he even doubted the reality or possibility of this Dream of equality and justice for all people. But he still took the first step every day. He acted in a courageous and intentional way each new day. He refused to let himself become paralyzed into inaction or to allow lack of clarity about the future to impede his forward momentum each day. One step at a time. But one step.
Every life transformation begins with the faith / courage to take the first step forward. Don't worry about having to know everything about the future. Just take the first step forward. And then the next step will become more clear. And then when you take that step, the next step will become clear. Act on what you do know--take one step.