By Joseph "Rev Run" Simmons
Every day I wake up and I pray. And I have to believe that God is sitting there, listening, responding. This whole faith walk is a very hard walk because you don't see him. You're talking to spirit, and you're hoping and praying that spirit is hearing you and going to respond favorably to your request.
A time in my life when I had to lean on faith to get me through a difficult experience? I have a million of them. Number one is losing the baby [his sixth child] last year. I had to lean on the faith that God was going to restore my family's faith in him, in life.
I had to feed my family a strict diet of thankfulness—for all that God has done and for us not to look to this one incident to shape our hope and faith in God's goodness. And when Run-DMC's DJ, Jam Master Jay (né Jason Mizell), was shot and killed in 2002, that was a very difficult time for me.
[After getting through the grief] I had to use my faith to restore my career. Since I wouldn't be touring with Run-DMC anymore, I looked to God to show me what to do. I had already opened a successful company called Phat Farm Footwear with my brother [hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons], but I hadn't found my niche.
I had to trust that through my tithing and giving, God would create opportunities for me to be able to support my family. I had to find my new way of touching people with my gift—my preaching skills. I enjoy entertainment, and I'm happy that our MTV show, Run's House, is doing well enough that I can continue to express myself in front of people.
So that's my life. I live a life of faith. I've been blessed. I know that God is real because he answers with what I ask for. And when he doesn't give me exactly what I asked for, I have a belief that it must not have been good for me at the time.
In some sense, faith is what I'm all about and also what can disappear in the blink of an eye. For a writer, it is as simple as words coming easily one day and failing you the next. During bleak times, when my characters sound like so many holiday-drunk relatives—and not the garrulous kind—I reassure myself that writing, like dreaming, is a function of my unconscious and will never leave me entirely on my own. I wake in the very early morning and like to start an hour or two before sunrise as if to catch the tailwind of my dreams. Also, pragmatically, I prefer to start when all the judges are still sleepy, including the harshest one—myself.
A difficult lesson, which I fought at every turn, is that what often must substitute for faith is discipline. Faith has a lovely ease about it, an ethereal ring. Discipline is the rod, the staff, your insecurities internalized and spouting rules and limits on your life. Why can't I just have faith that books will be completed? Why isn't faith alone enough? I hear my Southern roots respond. Faith doesn't dig ditches, they say; faith doesn't scrape the burn from the bottom of the pot. Ultimately, faith gives freedom, and discipline, its sister, makes sure the job gets done. Authors, when alone, often talk of page counts or word counts or how many hours they spent working that day. Rarely do we discuss our own attempts at poetry even though it is the poetry of others that routinely charges us with enough faith to go on.
Waking at 4 a.m.—3 a.m. when I am truly driven—is surely no fun for anyone, but having an image sneak up on you before the rest of the world wakes up is heaven. A small and precious secret that no one can see in the dark. Hours later, when the house stirs, and I hear my husband making a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen, I begin to feel the pressures of the day invade. I feel as if the air around me literally changes, and the work that comes then is harder and driven by will, not grace. I finish up for the day—always in the middle of something with notes jotted down that make no sense to anyone (and if I leave my desk for more than a day, that often includes me)—and go into the world of responsibilities where that necessary if often oppressive goddess of discipline takes center stage.
The work I leave behind in my study is unfinished and unknowable almost every day. Characters come alive and die in an instant, metaphors wobble, and sentences shift meaning without my fully understanding how. After all, conscious thought is the death of creativity and to have faith in one's unconscious is the ultimate need of a writer—at least this one. Dreams go unfinished while we sleep but can be completed upon waking if we both have faith and are willing to do the grueling work of follow-through. In this way faith is a figment, a dream, a creation—something beautiful I never hope to lose.
Alice Sebold is the author of The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon .
After the bomb fell on Hiroshima, even greater panic swept the city when rumors spread that the cherry blossoms would never bloom again. The thought that nature's cycle had been destroyed added a sense of hopelessness to the devastation people were already suffering.
In times of trauma or loss or fear, we look to a world not defined by our pain in order to heal; we try to find a context of still-existing goodness. We turn to nature or relationships or a belief in God, seeking strength in our connection to what is unbroken. We look for affirmation that growth and restoration are possible.
Faith is the quality of the heart that impels us to seek what is constant and whole. The sense of connection can be found in vastly different ways: in classically religious pursuits or ones that are completely secular; in music or art, meditation or service to others; with groups in city rooms or in the forest on one's own.
We need faith because despite our desire for the center of our lives to hold firm, we see that it never does. We're planning a career move, when suddenly illness threatens everything. We've settled comfortably into being alone, when we meet someone and fall in love. In life there is always change, and change can be uncomfortable, even terrifying.
We may try to deny the dynamic nature of change, telling ourselves, "I know it will all work out exactly the way I want it to." We may call this faith, but in fact it is no more than hope—a hope that is no longer energized and alive but has become fixed and brittle. And in reality, this hope is a subtle form of fear.
To be open to life, we need to first acknowledge what we cannot control. We can then begin to value—and trust in—our own inner strength and wisdom, which can remain unbroken no matter our circumstances. We can develop faith in a bigger picture of life, one that recognizes that whatever we face, we are held in a web of interconnection—we're not cut off and alone.
Conventional wisdom says the opposite of faith is doubt. But doubt, applied in the right way—as curiosity and a willingness to question—can enrich and enliven our faith. I believe the true opposite of faith is the sundering of connection, the desolate certainty that the cherry trees will never bloom again. It is the experience of utter isolation, or despair.
In contrast, faith helps us approach life with a sense of possibility rather than foreboding or helplessness. It dares us to imagine what we might be capable of. It enables us to reach for what we don't yet know with a measure of courage. It gives us resilience in times of difficulty, and the ability to respond to challenges without feeling trapped. My own faith has taught me that whatever disappointments I might meet, I can try again, trust again, and love again.
Sharon Salzberg is co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience (Riverhead).