Here's an excerpt from The Ancient Scroll, scheduled for publication in 18 months or so. Bob Archdale is North Carolina boy who is serving as a Methodist minister in New York City in 1935. Juan Santiago is his name for a man with amnesia who showed up at the church and is now serving as a custodian. It's been a long day for Bob. He's taking a break and found Juan reading a book in the kitchen of the church. They greet each other.
Archdale paused for a moment and then said, “Do you want to hear a short story?”
“Yes, that would be nice.” Santiago put a piece of paper in the book he was holding, to mark his place, and closed it.
Archdale sat down in another chair at the table and said, “Once, when I was a young man, I was at the ocean, in southeastern North Carolina, not far from where I lived, walking on the beach. I was enjoying all the sights and sounds of the day—the graceful, but sometimes noisy, ocean birds, the white caps on the water, the wispy clouds decorating the bright blue sky. I remember the sun was warm on my face. Then, suddenly, it occurred to me that I should try an experiment in faith.”
“That moment, I stopped in my tracks and looked at the line of the water off to my left, fairly straight and even for at least a mile or more ahead of me. Then I closed my eyes. I stepped forward in the faith that I could walk along the shore in a straight line without seeing, as I moved forward.”
“How was this walk of faith?” Santiago asked, with a smile.
Archdale laughed and said, “I walked only about fifteen steps before I had to open my eyes to see where I was.”
Santiago laughed. “I understand.”
Archdale smiled and explained, “The inner pressure was too great. I gave in to my uncertainty. But then, I thought to myself, ‘This is no good, I have no faith.’ And I decided to close my eyes for fifty steps. That was my clear goal. I walked, and I counted, and it was hard. I wanted desperately to sneak a peek at where I was. The desire to know almost made me dizzy. And that really bothered me. So, standing motionless for a moment and with my eyes still closed, I inwardly screwed up my courage and I said to myself, ‘One hundred more steps—no sight, just feel: for one hundred more paces.’
“Oh, my,” Juan said.
“Yes. I had to defeat this need in me. I had to have faith! So, I started walking forward again with my eyes still closed, and once more I began to count. At thirty more steps, I felt a new form of light pressure in my soul; at forty, more pressure; at fifty, my mind begged me to stop and I felt almost dizzy again, but I kept going. The inner stress of the unknown grew with each successive step. And by the time I got to eighty paces, it was almost painful to put a foot forward again on that path I could not see. Something in my mind was begging me to stop and open my eyes. There was a lack of trust that was almost screaming out to me.”
“What happened then?” Santiago said. “You were so close. Did you make it?”
“At ninety paces, my head nearly started to throb. I panicked. I thought, ‘This is crazy!’ But it was real. So I took a deep breath to calm myself. And I kept going. ‘I'm stronger than this,’ I said to myself. At one hundred steps, I stopped. I had made it. I opened my eyes, looking first at my feet. It was such a relief! I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. But when I looked up and noticed where I was, I was so surprised!”
“Why?” Santiago asked. “Where were you?”
“By a lake on the side of a mountain in Tibet.”
“I’m just kidding.”
“Oh! You had me going there for a second.”
“Thank you. I do my best. It wasn’t actually anything that shocking, but it was a surprise. Unknowingly, I had been walking a crooked path, diagonally oriented to the water, moving ever closer toward it. Thinking that I was going straight and parallel to the water’s edge, I had veered at an angle moving toward the surf, as if it had been calling me beneath my conscious awareness. Or it could have been the gentle slant of the sand down to the water, which was so gradual that I was altogether unaware of it at the time. But that very state of unawareness may have participated in allowing it to have an effect on me that I didn’t feel. And that, I think, is why the great spiritual traditions have always stressed the importance of awareness.”
“Very interesting. So, unaware of the forces that had been impinging on you, your path was diverted by them.”
“Yes, I think so. But, whatever the cause, I had gotten way off track.”
"Just as you did a moment ago in telling the story,” Santiago said with a straight face.
“Indeed. Touché!” Archdale laughed and continued, “In that moment of surprise, in my real version of Tibet, but on the beach, it came to me that, without any clear vision to guide us in life, we’ll almost inevitably veer off course. We’ll wander and get out of line, ending up some place we don’t want to be. We can be pulled and nudged by any force that impinges on us, whether we’re aware of it or not, and especially if we’re not. But with our eyes wide open, we can much more likely walk a straight path.”
“That’s very wise. And what conclusion did you draw about faith?” Santiago asked.
“Ah. That was big for me. Authentic faith doesn’t involve just blindly moving forward with no use of the resources you have available to you. Trusting providence doesn’t mean refusing to use what you’ve been given. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Right then and there, I immediately said to myself, ‘Bob, my good man, always look where you're going. Have a clear vision for your life that’s inspired by the best you can learn. Pay attention to where you are. Consider where you need to be. Look for how to get there. Eyes wide open. Use what you have. And use it well. And then have faith that you’ll receive whatever guidance and support along the way that you need.’ The faith I was experimenting with that day with my eyes closed was really just faith in myself, in my own abilities and orientation. And that doesn't work without also having faith in something greater as well, and a clear view of things.”
“Very good,” Santiago said.
Archdale continue, “I realized, standing so near the water, that blind faith is not what’s asked of us in this life, but faith combined with clear sight—faith with vision: a deep trust that operates with full awareness.”
“Nice,” his guest said, nodding his head. “Very nice, indeed.”
“Thank you, my friend. If I had continued my little experiment in blind faith, I could have walked right into the water, and the whole thing would have ended with a form of baptism I would not have expected!”
Santiago laughed and said, “I like your story.”
Archdale admitted, “I’ve used it in sermons more than once over the years.”