Fear of Flying

“No, we will fall.”
“No, we will fall.”
They came to the edge.
He pushed them, and they flew.

Thus, early 20th century French poet Apollinaire cuts to the heart of the matter! We humans have an insane case of vertigo and cling to what is “safe”, clutching tight to social norms and standard expectations for our security. Life, more precisely living, isn’t like that!

I love riding my scooter — yes, it costs $3.74 to fill the tank. But what I really love is the rush of the air, the freedom of movement, openness to the elements, feeling one with the machine. I’m careful and have never ridden without a helmet and a florescent lime vest like the ones used by road crews.

I really tire of the litany of warnings the majority of folks repeatedly intone… Be careful! That’s dangerous! Watch out! Is that safe? You could get killed! Growing weary of their professions of concern, I am increasingly curious whether my self-appointed safety patrol is in fact secretly jealous, actually envious of something they would love to do but remain hamstrung with fear.

Apollinaire was on to something! Riding my scooter is as close to flying as I will ever get this side of being a pilot. Though even scootering doesn’t quite rank up there with sky-diving — only once from 15,000 feet about ten years ago. The one-minute 10,000 foot free-fall before opening the parachute was one of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life. And, yes, it scared the crap out of me!

The way we live our lives mirrors how we practice our religion — often clustering in self-selected enclaves of like-minded folks who share our answers to life’s important questions. This is perfectly okay and necessary. Just last Sunday the Gospel was “Come to me all who labor and are weary; I will give you rest.” The problem is getting too fixed in our ways — too settled in our own weariness, resting with own answers.

Take Peter for example — our “rock” of faith on which Jesus would build his church. Along with the other apostles Peter repeatedly asked, “What’s in it for me?” Despite the many reassurances of the hundred-fold, even a master-teacher like Jesus must exhibit super-human patience… and still does with the rest of us!

Apollinaire’s “COME TO THE EDGE” is a lot like Jesus prodding Peter to get out of the boat and walk on water (Mt 14:22-32). “Wudda ya, nuts!?!” Like the master teacher to whom I was tethered in my sky-dive, Jesus was right there to grab Peter when he experienced his latest bout of self-doubt.  Too often these doubts paralyze us in a nasty case of vertigo.

In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor observes that religion serves two functions in our lives. First, it provides a way for people to understand and find meaning and purpose.  That’s good! But like a self-appointed safety patrol who scorn scooters, too many of us play it safe and settle for the security they find.  Unwilling to inch closer to the edges of life, they never get to see horizons that provide unimagined vistas or the hundred-fold Jesus promised in this life. (Mk 10:30)

The crunch comes, as it did for Peter, when we come face to face with the second function of religion — real conversion, genuine transformation. We prefer that religion simply function like Guy Noir of Prairie Home Companion giving us answers to all life’s important questions.  But there’s more — the “losing your life” part.

We, like Peter, will fight to defend the Jesus we think we understand, even drawing swords to keep him from being taken from us.  All the while we cut our selves off from him.  We deny the very path of salvation Jesus came to show us by example, the very way that leads to life and is our truth: “Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose it will find it” (Mt 10:39 & 16:25).  When we see that Jesus really means it, we like Peter run for our lives!

BBT quotes Christian mystic, Ken Wilber in stating the obvious — this “transformation” talk doesn’t sell well. It didn’t in Jesus’ time and it doesn’t in ours! According to Wilber, “soul” for most Americans has come to mean little more than “the ego in drag.” Much of what passes for spirituality is really all about comforting the self, not losing it!  We so want the answers to life’s questions and solutions to its heartaches to come from somewhere or someone else.  Isn’t that God’s job, to keep us safe!?!?

“COME TO THE EDGE.” Get out of your boat! If you want to save your life lose it… Yes, we often need to be tethered or assured by an out-stretched arm. That’s what the church is for — not to enfeeble us but to set us free!  Thankfully we have a patient, though persistent, teacher who walks his talk.  In addition to the reassurance of a good teacher, we sometimes just need a big hard push!

We too will ultimately hear the words addressed to Peter as our own: “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are mature you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will put a belt around you and lead you were you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)


They came to the edge.
He pushed them, and they flew.
Barbara Brown Taylor’s reference to Ken Wilbur may be found on pages 86-88 of Learning to Walk in the Dark. She is quoting One Taste: Daily Reflections on Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilbur. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.




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