|Salt crystals image from Wikimedia Commons|
But salt has been a prized commodity for millennia, and people have traveled long distances to possess it. Human beings need a certain critical amount of salt in their diets; without it they can become drastically ill, both physically and mentally. Salt, used as a preservative, keeps worthwhile foods from spoiling and protects against damaging invaders like mold and bacteria. And you just try cooking anything edible without salt; it's pretty much an exercise in futility. Salt makes frozen roads safer, extinguishes fires, and cleans everything from clothing to teeth. Salt fills the seas that cover nearly two-thirds of our world, and makes possible the teeming diversity of living things within them. Salt even runs in our blood. Just because it's everywhere, and just because it may not be to your taste, that doesn't mean you don't need it. Salt is crucial to life.
Now: I am a woman of faith.
You can find people like me everywhere -- in churches and synagogues and mosques, at potlucks and PTA meetings, in soup kitchens and orphanages and prisons, even running around two by two on foot or on bikes. Sometimes I can be flaky -- yeah, I know, some of you have been telling me this for years now -- and I, and people like me, can be fairly abrasive to others if we don't take the time to think before we speak or act. People of faith aren't pure or perfect; they're usually working to become better. Not everyone likes faith or its associated traditions, and there are some very learned and well-respected people who believe faith poisons everything and that our society would be better off without it.
But faith, like salt, is necessary to sustain life and civilization. People have gone to great lengths to search out and find a faith that feeds their souls. Without a modicum of faith, mighty empires -- the first French Republic, the Soviet Union -- have crumbled from within, the ultimate emptiness of their ideologies unable to sustain their people over multiple generations. People of faith, in mosques and monasteries, have done what they could to preserve worthwhile knowledge and keep it from extinction. Music, painting, architecture and all the realms of human creativity have been enriched by artists of deep faith. Faith-based holidays -- Holi, Christmas, Purim and numerous others -- give zest and joy to all who participate, and enhance the quality of life. Faith can soften the hardest of hearts, gentle the wildest furies, and cleanse the souls of those who thought they were beyond saving. Faith can fill the world with deeper understanding, brings a greater joy into life, even brings context and meaning to suffering and death. Even if you don't think you need it, faith, like salt, is crucial to life.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus taught that his followers were "the salt of the earth" -- that is, a small but essential ingredient that would bring its positive, needful influence to the mass of mankind. Insofar as his disciples refused to be thus -- if they gave up their savor, that unusual quality that made them what they were, and tried to be just like everyone else -- they would become worthless, good only to be cast aside and trodden underfoot. Being a person of faith sometimes means having the courage to be different. Not everyone will appreciate this difference or relish your company because of it. But if you stay true to who you are -- that is, if you continue to grow in your faith and refuse external pressures to lose your particular savor -- then your small acts of love and kindness, like a sprinkle of salt in food, can have a disproportionately positive effect on the world around you.