The school virtue for October is faith and hope yet how does one demonstrate faith and hope? Faith is belief in something that cannot be seen. So the pedagogical question for the month is this: how does a priest/teacher like me demonstrate what cannot be seen?
At summer camp, we did activities which facilitated trust and faith in one another. My favorite is the “Trust Walk” where one camper is blindfolded and another camper leads the blind person around. The blindfolded camper needs to put faith in the other person and believe in something that cannot be seen. Watching, I could usually tell when faith was established because the shoulders of the blindfolded person would relax and a smile would appear. This is difficult to recreate in a sermon during chapel.
So Wednesday, I went with a different faith exercise that involves science and someone maybe getting wet. The exercise involves a student, a clear plastic cup, water, and a cardboard circle a little larger than the cup opening. You can try this at home. Fill the cup more than half full, place the cardboard cutout over the top of the cup and then quickly turn the cup upside down. What we expect is that the water will pour out into the sink (or onto the student’s head). But science takes over and the air pressure in the cup holds the cardboard lid to the cup. The theological message might be that we expect the water to spill out, but it doesn’t because of a principle of science that we cannot see, just like the prophet Elijah. He prayed for rain, without a cloud in sight, and kept praying. His faith, and God’s promise made the unbelievable and unseen into reality. During the sermon, however, I was in a different place.
I was nervous that this might not work. Test after test it worked but I had doubts that I could do it successfully in front of an audience. And, because of my lack of faith, it failed and the student’s head got wet. Technically, it was the protective Santa hat that got wet so I tried again, this time over the bucket I brought just in case. I failed. I less more water in the cup, put the lid on and flipped it over and failed again. By now the students were laughing and my student/volunteer was getting more and more nervous. But then I heard something like a voice over my left shoulder that said, “Pour more water in the cup.” I didn’t listen, and in fact filled the cup even less than before. It failed, again. Again, I heard, “Pour more water in.” And, this time I thought, but if it’s not working with this much water, why would pouring more water in make a difference; it’ll make it worse. But, I had a moment of faith. I filled the cup more than three-quarters full, took a breath, and flipped it over. And, it worked! The students cheered with amazement. I then held it above my volunteer’s head and danced around with it. The cup, upside down, with nearly a full cup of water, was being held in with a flimsy cardboard lid – defying the law of gravity.
This was an experience of faith for me. I had to believe, without seeing, that the exercise would work. This was a message for me and I hope the rest of the students learned something, too. It took a dose of humility, but, when it comes to faith, a little cup of humility leads to a large dose of belief.