I am wide awake.
Standing at the top of a six-foot step ladder.
About to fall off.
I take one more quick look over my shoulder.
Six middle and high schoolers and one adult.
Are all that stand between me and the hard November ground.
I suck in my breath and feel a sick writhing in my stomach.
A hot chill runs over me.
I push it down.
This is fear in its most elemental form.
I look around for a restroom.
None up here six feet above the ground.
I wonder if I’ll soon be six feet under
or at least on my way to the emergency room.
This moment is an advanced form of trust games.
High up the ladder – so to speak.
It starts low with gentle falls backwards.
Your partner plants her hands firmly on your back,
catches you and stands you back up.
Then you swap roles.
Trust is built this way.
Soon you advance to greater risk.
You stand arms crossed over chest, muscles taunt and eyes closed in a circle of trust.
Begin by falling backwards and then hands support you on every side.
Gently rolling you around the circle.
Then come the real falls.
This other stuff was nothing.
So you fall to your knees or sit down hard: who cares?
But falling all the way backwards to be lowered to the ground?
That’s a bigger test of trust.
And then comes the ladder.
Falling from the very top.
Truth be told?
I don’t trust them.
Too much can go wrong.
Something at a cellular level objects:
Not safe. All wrong. Get down.
Although the messages are not so much in words
as they are mostly embodied feelings of fear and panic
that just say with every fiber of my being: NO!
Looking back in time at this up-in-the-air moment I can see a truth about my own life of faith:
believing I can trust, believing I will be caught when I take a risk, believing I am loved
these are my work of faith.
They continue to be
my work of faith.
With U2 I can say
“It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me.
Oh believe in me.”
And with the psalmist I can say:
“How long I had stood within the house of fear
yearning to enter the gates of love!”
It is not warring nations that I fear,
but the war within my own heart to believe.
Can I trust? Will I be caught when I take a risk? Am I loved?
Oh, that I might join “those who have faced their fears”
and enter the gates of the temple with joy and thanksgiving.
So standing at the top of a ladder, high as Yahweh’s mountain
I squeeze my eyes shut
Cross my arms over my chest
and tighten every muscle in my body . . . I hesitate . . .
And then, I fall
into “the moment of surrender.”
The community of faith reaches up, and they catch me.
They usher me in to the gates of peace
and lower me to the soft brown November grass.
They persuade me to stay awake and to know that I am loved.
This is the Advent journey:
Awake dear travelers, face your fears, and know that you are loved.
(This reading was offered on the first Sunday in Advent, and grows out of the day’s readings: Psalm 122 and Isaiah 2:1-5.)