From the editor: December 12, 2014
We're High Wired for God
"Praise God! To God be the glory!" exclaimed Nik Wallenda after his first walk on a high wire over the Chicago River on November 2, 2014. He then walked back—this time blindfolded! How in the world can he do it? How many people could do what he did (video), even with practice?
Indeed, there are feats of strength or athleticism that seem almost superhuman. How many of us could climb Mt. Everest? How many of us are capable of running a marathon at the speed of even an average long distance runner who has a shot a getting a college scholarship in track? Most of us could not come within a country mile of a world record performance or legendary feat of strength.
Nik Wallenda, athletes, and others who do extreme feats, show us what the human body at its best is capable of in each given endeavor: balance, speed, endurance, strength, agility, marksmanship, and so on. And we respect them, and marvel.
Now, for a long time, I wondered about the feats of extreme saints. If I can't follow their examples—say, like sitting on a pillar for years—what good are they? Were they just showing off? Are hagiographers just making a buck? Saints sitting up on pillars—stylites—or eating one meal a week—that's just weird. But so was John the Baptist, whom Jesus lauded as the greatest born among women.
After reading the lives of more than a thousand saints, from all places, nations, stations in life, rich, poor, slave, free, clergy, laity, married, celibate, young old, and so on, I've come to realize that the stylites, hermits, wonder-workers, and others who seem so far beyond us (if not weird), are, yes, extreme, but shining examples (not to be emulated!), to be appreciated as signs of what the human soul is capable of becoming in communion with God. We can respect them, and marvel at God's grace. If we look carefully, we can see in them the fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, wisdom, and the rest.
Certainly, we sometimes get carried away with the "wow" of extreme examples, and hagiography has a reputation for preoccupation with details that are not helpful for the average Christian. But being "average" should not be our goal. Yes, we all are "called to be saints," but this doesn't mean a lowest-common-denominator cultural holiness or LCD Christian discipleship. Christ gives some 10 talents, some 2, and others 1, to be fully used by each. The goal is, "My utmost for his highest."
Okay, I can't do Simeon the Stylite or Nik Wallenda. But just like I know I can be a little closer to Wallenda or an Olympic runner than I am now if commit myself to exercise, eating right, and discipline of my body, so, too, can I be more open to God, more obedient in even small things, and in better avoiding all manner of sins. Take anxiety, for one. Or selfishness. Or judgmentalism (I see all those motes out there...) The extreme saints know their own sins most clearly.
What are we capable of? Nothing without God. With him, we can shine like the stars in the firmament, full of light and wonder. We are wired for glory. Let it flow.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
—James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James