Some of you might have watched Nik Wallenda walk across Niagara Falls on a high wire on June 15, 2012. It was a truly impressive performance; the Falls were daunting in size and power, the conditions were challenging, and the veteran wire walker made it look easy.
As he took one sure step after another on the wet cable, the audience could hear him communicating through a microphone with his father, who was also his coach, and praying out loud.
What was striking about his prayer (apart from its being a prominent part of his walk) was how clearly joyful and filled with gratitude it was. This was not a prayer of petition, “God, help me do this incredibly hard thing!” This was a prayer of recognition that divine power and God’s presence were real and active right there in the thick mist and blowing gusts above Niagara. “Thank you, God,” he said over and over again.
It seemed to me, listening to his voice, that these weren’t mere repetitions of praise, but heartfelt exclamations of gratitude and awe. Wallenda told Canadian customs officials who met him at the end of his walk that the purpose of his visit was to “inspire people all over the world.” My own feeling was that even more inspiring than the physical feat of crossing the gorge, or Wallenda’s intensive training and preparation, was his profound sense of what is possible and his willingness to faithfully act on it.
These weren’t mere repetitions of praise, but heartfelt exclamations of gratitude and awe.
In 1859, Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara gorge many times on a tightrope at a narrower point below the Falls. On one occasion he did this blindfolded, on another occasion, on stilts. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, saw the act in metaphysical terms, writing in Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures: “Had Blondin believed it impossible to walk the rope over Niagara’s abyss of waters, he could never have done it. His belief that he could do it gave his thought‐forces, called muscles, their flexibility and power which the unscientific might attribute to a lubricating oil. His fear must have disappeared before his power of putting resolve into action could appear” (p. 199).
Both Blondin and Wallenda trained in acrobatics since early childhood. They are paragons of their unusual profession, and most people, however moved by their death-defying deeds, do not wish to literally follow in their footsteps. If their inspiring acts are to have any meaning to us, then it must be on the basis of what those accomplishments tell us about what is possible for us all. Training provides the experience that prepares a person to take on challenges and, more important, prepares his or her thought to accept a larger view of what is possible. Training focuses thought on the moment-by-moment work involved in the performance of any act and forms the habit of looking for ways to meet the predicaments involved. Most of us may never become experts in any single field of endeavor, but the ability and willingness to be more consistently open to more good are life-changers worth pursuing.
Faith, understood in a Christianly scientific way, means our normal response to spiritual evidence.
Fortunately, the kind of spiritual training involved in building on inspiration is naturally available to all of us. As he repeatedly praised God during his amazing walk, Nik Wallenda was illustrating the connection between the awareness of his own potential ability and the very real activity of Spirit as the essential principle and life of man. The moment you begin to recognize that your own capabilities are actually expressions of something greater—Life, Truth, divine Love—you also begin to perceive the vastness of God’s great goodness. Christ Jesus spoke truly for us all when he said, “I can of mine own self do nothing . . . because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30).
It does take practice to remember this fundamental spiritual fact that underlies and overarches our lives. Eddy notes in Science and Health: “The devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible. Exceptions only confirm this rule, proving that failure is occasioned by a too feeble faith” (p. 199). By faith, she didn’t mean blind trust in something we can’t see or feel but try to believe in, on the word of others. Faith, understood in a Christianly scientific way, means our normal response to spiritual evidence. This, I think, was the basis of the joy and full-hearted gratefulness that Wallenda spoke from as he walked through the swirling, drenching mist above the falls.
As we develop the habit of letting an acknowledgment of God’s goodness and love form the basis of our own thinking, inspiration will translate to action. Spiritual qualities such as strength and courage, calm and stability, will shine through naturally, wherever we are.
Caryl Emra Farkas is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Madison, Wisconsin.