Not long ago, A friend and I were hiking together on Kodiak Island. It was not a day to fall. We were walking safely on the trail, but then wandered over near a grassed cliff to admire some flowers. She got close to the edge. My friend is not young, near 70, and I did not realize she had forgotten her glasses. Not seeing clearly she misjudged her footing----and slipped. I watched in horror as she went down, tumbling over and over, her arms flailing to grab anything to stop her roll---but there was nothing but grass. I screamed her name, watching her near the precipice she would surely fall from---the edge that then dropped 50 feet to a rocky beach below. She would be badly hurt, and if she hit her head, she could die. Somehow she stopped just at the lip of the edge, where there was nothing to stop a careening body. But there she was, seemingly pinned on her back, her arms and legs splayed, her terrified face looking up at me.
“Don’t move!” I yelled and began to slowly scoot down the slope on my rear, one boot kicked into the ground at a time, lowering myself boot by scoot down, down, until I could reach my hand out to hers. We grabbed each other’s wrists and painfully inched our way back up the slope—her on her back,me kicking into the ground and pushing us up with my knees and arms. It was not hot but we were drenched in sweat, our hearts racing. When we got to level ground, we stood and hugged for several minutes.
I went back later that day with two other friends and showed them where she had fallen----it was even steeper than I remembered. We shook our heads incredulously and knew it was miraculous, the pinioning presence of angels, that she didn’t fall all the way over the cliff.
These weeks I am perched on tall ladders, standing on scaffolding to spackle, sand and paint high walls and ceilings. I have to reach far and stand steady with a heavy sander. Tomorrow I will help take up the nets when fishing closes for a few days, balancing in a rolling skiff, trying not to fall.
I don’t want to fall. I don’t want to fall anywhere—not over a cliff, not from a ladder, not in a skiff on the ocean. I want to keep my balance at all times. I want to do this metaphorically as well as literally: live a perfectly ordered, balanced life where there is no fear, no tumble, no impact, no injury, no excess, no fatigue, not even wobbling. Voices around us urge us constantly to live “a balanced life.” “Moderation in all things,” says Aristotle. Nearly every religion or philosophy speaks the virtues of moderation, temperance and balance.
Don’t you want this too? To keep from extremes, to hold a solid path between opposing poles and claims, to walk straight, light, full, fulfilled and steady at all times?
But who lives such a life? Not farmers or fishermen or poets or builders or gardeners or mothers or pastors or authors or teachers or anyone I know with a deep love for life and for others. “Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance,” wrote poet Anne Sexton. Yes, exuberance. And don’t forget exhaustion. Both are part of the perfectly imbalanced life lived by most of us.
We live in great company. When King David brought the ark of God back to Jerusalem, he staged singers, musicians, shouters and marchers to go before the ark in joyful performance, singing these words:
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.”
David himself leaped and danced before the ark and the Lord “with all his might.” Can you see him? And when he mourned and questioned God, he did this with his whole heart also.
This is how I want to live:
Seeking His face always.
Seeking His face always.
Don’t seek balance---seek Jesus.
When you do, you will not always stand steady. You will not always walk straight. You will lean at times, bow at times; you will dance at times, fall at times. But if you lean, you lean upon Him. If you bow, you bow before Him. If you dance, you dance with Him. If you fall, you fall upon Him.
My friend rolled down the grassed cliff---and fell into Him that day. I cannot forget it.
So, I stand here leaning. Yes, I will choose my footing carefully on the cliff, on the scaffolding, in the skiff this week, but I will be leaning and looking for Him everywhere in this one crooked, perfectly imbalanced, exuberant life.
Will you lean over and join me?