Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tightrope Walker - Model for Watchfulness and Faith

We know in the Christian life, the path we follow is a narrow one, and the temptations to pull us away from it are many. We accept that our struggle is a continuous one. We strain to keep our focus on on Him, to seek to align our own will with His––“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Too often we become complacent, feel satisfied with our comfortable life style, and stop the struggle.  This is when we are in the most danger. We must always be watchful, the Scripture and the Church Fathers tell us.

The image of a tightrope walker for is a powerful one for me. Maybe its because of my fear of heights. But think for a moment of a tightrope stretched between two skyscrapers about one-hundred floors or more above street level. Imagine yourself on that rope, halfway between the two buildings.  There is no escape. To fall would mean certain death.  Each step has to be taken very carefully.  You have to totally attentive to every movement.  One slip and you die.  Think of the level of intensity of concentration that is required.  This is the kind of attention that is required of us in our daily walk as a Christian. 

There is a story about one the famous tightrope walkers Charles Blondin.
Charles Blondin the tightrope walker announced one day that he wanted to perform a special feat. He wanted to pull a steel cable across the Niagara Falls and walk across the falls from the Canadian side to the American side while pushing a wheel barrow full of rocks (late 1800’s). 
No one believed he could do such a feat especially a reporter who wrote in the newspaper saying that the tightrope walker was crazy. 
So one day he had a steel cable pulled across the Falls and announced he was going to perform this feat on Sunday. 
Many people came (to see him fail - and die). 
When the time came, he took a wheel barrow full of rocks, got on the steel cable and began his difficult journey. 
It was very windy in Niagara and the rushing waters from the falls are very disturbing and frightening. A steel cable that stretched for over a kilometer is very unstable and sways under his feet. One step at a time, he walked that steel cable. Many times he stopped to catch his breath. 
About six feet from the end – he pushed the wheel barrow on to the other side – did a cartwheel along the rope and made it to the other side! 
When he was getting congratulated, he saw the reporter, the one who wrote in the paper saying that he was crazy. He immediately asked the reporter if he still believed he was crazy. The reporter replied he now believed he wasn’t crazy as he saw the feat being done. 
Blondin then asked “Do you think I could do it again?” and the reporter said, “Yes.” 
Blondin then emptied the wheel barrow full of rocks and said to him, “If you really believe, get in...”

It is one thing to mentally believe and quite another to have faith. Faith is more than a decision. It is a way of life. It requires the attentiveness of a tightrope walker.

John Chrysostom used this same image to instruct us. 
And, as for men who walk upon a tightrope cannot be off their guard ever so little, for that little causes great mischief; for the man losing his balance is at once precipitated down and perishes; so neither is it possible for us to be off our guard  We walk down a narrow road intercepted by precipices on either side, not admitting of two fee at the same time.  Do you not see how much carefulness is needed?

Let us take heed to the narrow way, let us walk with fear and trembling...  No one traveling such a road caries with him any excess; for he would be contented even lightly equipped to be abel to escape. No one entangles his own feet, but leaves then disengaged, and free to move. But we, chaining ourselves down with numberless cares, and carrying with us the numberless burdens of this life, staring about, and loosely rambling, how do we expect to travel in that narrow road?

John Chrysostom reminds us that the path to Heaven is not an easy one,
Let not anyone therefore expect that he shall see heaven with ease.  For it cannot be. Let no one hope to travel the narrow road with luxury, for it is impossible… For once let us be sober, let us open our eyes, let us watch, let us lay hold on eternal life, let us shake off this long sleep.  There is a Judgment, there is a Punishment, there is a Resurrection, there is an Inquisition into what we have done!…  

Quotes of St. John Chrysostom are from his Homily 9 on 1Thessalonians 5: 1-11.

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