The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Humility Matters and Saint Ralph


Humility Matters for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Mary Margaret Funk is the third volume of a trilogy (Thoughts Matter: The Practice of the Spiritual Life and Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life), and it nicely complements the other two. Together they comprise a wonderful compendium of spiritual practices for Christians. There are thought-provoking pieces on fasting, hospitality, reverencing things, patience as an antidote to anger, the sin of sadness, the beneficial sides of afflictions and more.

Humility was demonstrated again and again by Jesus, and it led to the Christian monastic emphasis on four renunciations: of our former way of life, of the thoughts and desires of our former way of life, of our self-made thoughts of God, and of our self-made thoughts of self. Funk discusses how the desert fathers and mothers of the third and fourth centuries trained their minds, then moves on to a very creative treatment of humility in the form of dialogues with two pioneers of humility: Teresa of Jesus (Avila), who shows us how to renounce our self-made thoughts of God through the practice of recollection, and Therese of Lisieux, who shows us how to renounce our self-made thoughts of self through the practice of the Little Way (Continuum, 2005; available from www.amazon.com).


Saint Ralph is the story of a 14-year-old boy (Adam Butcher) who is viewed in school as a weakling and loser. He keeps getting into trouble and as a disciplinary measure is assigned to join the cross-country team coached by Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott). Weighing heavily on Ralph is his mother’s serious illness. When she lapses into a coma, the doctors tell him it will take a miracle to wake her up. In class Ralph learns that miracles can happen but you must nurture them with three things: faith, purity and prayer. These present quite a challenge to Ralph. But he discovers that he has a talent for running. He decides to run in the Boston Marathon. Told it would take a miracle for him to win this prestigious race, he connects the dots and decides that this is the way to effect his mother’s cure. But to pull off this seemingly impossible feat, the loner has to enlist the help of a wider community of people.

This is a heartfelt story about a teenager who proves that ordinary individuals can do extraordinary things through strong intention, fiery determination and a little help from their friends. It probably will remind you of some of the challenges you faced in your early religious formation, especially your questions about faith, purity and prayer. It will help you get in touch with your attitudes toward modern-day miracles. Pay special attention to the songs that are used as an emotional undertow to Ralph’s quest, especially Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, PG-13—some sexual content, partial nudity).


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