FAITH KEPT STRANDED MAN ALIVE
There is an article in today's LA Times
that I find both moving and strange. It expresses so much that is intriguing about the nature of faith.
Luis Cruz, a Salvadoran native who lives in the San Fernando Valley, was stranded for 12 days in Angeles National Forest with a fractured back before being rescued last Tuesday. Yesterday, from his hospital bed, he told reporters, "I was never afraid to die. I was in real pain, real tired...but God never left my side. I was never alone."
What I find strange is the preceding paragraph, in which the Times' reporter sums up the young man's statement. According to the reporter, he said that "he never lost his faith that he would survive the ordeal."
I suppose it's possible that Luis Cruz made two statements, one, which the reporter quoted indirectly (and which became the dramatic sub-head of the story), about his faith that he would survive, and a second about not fearing death. But the way it's written, it sounds as if the reporter didn't realize those were two very different, even contradictory statements. The first one you see all the time in newspapers, the second one far more rarely.
Whenever someone survives the seemingly unsurvivable, someone will say, "God must have been there," without thinking of the cruel flip side to that statement: Does it mean God was not there for all the innocents who have died? I certainly wouldn't criticize anyone else for saying such a thing, because I'm sure I've said it myself a few times. Although, if questioned, I'd have to admit I don't really mean it. I don't believe in a wish-granting, here-for-some-and-not-for-others God. A God like that would not be worthy of faith.
But for an awful lot of people who tell pollsters they believe in God, that's about all faith amounts to -- God as the uber-fairy godmother (or fairy godfather, I guess, since people who trot out their faith only when they have a wish to make would probably be uncomfortable with the concept of God as a mother, although "godfather" has some unfortunate cinematic connotations they might want to stay away from). The Oh lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz
school of theology.
But Luis Cruz's statement that he never feared death is the essence of faith. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Cruz describes an acceptance and a source of strength that can't really be found outside a life of faith. I can't be sure, but there is something in the tone of the article that makes me think that the reporter could not tell that Luis Cruz was talking about that kind of faith, not the more common and superstitious variety.
There is one other thing I found intriguing about this story. There's a picture of Luis Cruz with his cut and bruised hands holding a wooden rosary. That wouldn't be anything to remark upon, except that the article describes him as a "born-again Christian." Born-again is not a phrase that comes readily to the lips of Catholics I know, so I assume Luis Cruz is one of many Latin American converts to an evangelical church. And yet, wounded and in pain, he reaches for a rosary.
It seems to me that in some way a born-again Christian fingering a rosary might just be the quintessential image of what faith will look like in the 21st century. People will reach out to churches that make sense to them, that reflect their understanding of God, or will pursue their own ways of worship, and at the same time cling to old images and rituals that retain some spiritual meaning. Or they will stay in old churches, with comfortable rituals, and push the boundaries of those churches to see how far they'll stretch before they break. Luis Cruz's example says it works.
But it won't be easy. In a recent New Republic
there was a review of Garry Wills' Why I Am A Catholic
, which argued that Wills was fighting a losing battle in trying to be a liberal, open-minded, critical Catholic: "too loyal to be the best kind of critic and too critical to be meaningfully loyal." Poor Garry Wills. Conservative Catholics don't quite trust him (some even loathe him) and non-Catholics think he's wimping out. Personally, that alone makes me like him.
I definitely fall into the "too critical to be meaningfully loyal" category. I've been wounded by the Catholic Church so many times and in so many ways that for me to return to it would be like a battered woman returning to an abusive husband. I don't care how much he changes and finds religion, a woman is a fool if she goes back to a guy who beat up on her. And what is true for men is equally true for churches.
(I didn't choose the simile lightly. I am the battered daughter of a battered wife, who went back again and again largely because the Church told her to. The coddling of pedophile priests is not the only sin the Church needs to atone for.)
But I find Garry Wills' combination of loyalty and trueness to his own way interesting, inspiring and utterly worthy of respect, not all that different, really, from the struggle of the brave young woman whose name I borrow when I write here, hoping that she will also lend me a little bit of her courage and integrity.
I am not a Catholic. My hero is a Catholic saint. Like a born-again Christian reaching for a rosary.
Of course, there will be people who tell you that evangelical faith and Catholic ritual is a silly theological mix, and that you're either Catholic or you're not, believe it all without question, or get out.
But I'm not buying it, and I think fewer and fewer believers are. I live in California, the land of Jewish Buddhists and pagan Christians (Not a new concept, really. I often wear a small, gold Celtic cross, a cross with a circle around it, which I was told as a child, merged the Celts' old "sun" god with their new "son" god. I later learned that the story is probably a myth, but I don't care. I like it and I'm sticking by it.) I won't even blink twice the first time I meet someone who tells me she's a Jewish Muslim. What's the use of faith without miracles?