Recently, I shared that my word for the year is remain arising out of Jesus’ metaphor of the branch and the vine and that I began to realize that God has been dropping other similar metaphors like breadcrumbs for me to follow. One of those breadcrumbs is the image of a buoy, another is the image of a tree, and still another is the image of a shepherd. This week, I’d like to share another breadcrumb: the image of a rock climber hanging below the edge of a cliff.
The Rock Climber
I have never been rock climbing, not even indoors. I do not understand the desire to pull yourself up a craggy rock face with the constant threat of imminent harm or even death at the slightest misstep or misjudged hold. But I am aware that the harder and more technical the climb, the more specialized gear you need: shoes, harness, helmet, carabiners, and of course rope.
Now stick with me. There are basically two types of climbing ropes: dynamic and static. A static rope is stiff and used for going down (rappelling) and if (God-forbid!) you need rescuing while a dynamic rope is more elastic and is designed to hep protect you if you lose your grip by absorbing some of the force generated when you fall.
Imagine you are hanging in midair, suspended between the ground far below you and the top of a cliff above. Rough rock inches from your face. Wide open space all around. Just you, swinging slightly as a breeze rushes by. A brightly colored rope bears your full weight, thick and tightly braided. Which kind of rope is it?
Are you going up or down? Do you need rescuing or support and guidance as you continue toward your goal? Are you depending on a stiff rope that will not give, or do you need as much elasticity as you can manage?
This image came to me unexpectedly at a moment in my life when I felt particularly un-grounded, longing for firm support under my feet. I felt the anxiety and panic of hanging over the edge, clinging desperately to a thin line of rope–the only thing connecting me to the safety above; the only thing keeping me from plummeting through empty space to certain harm below. I began to contemplate the rope that was holding me up. I wondered what it was attaching me to far up above. A big tree with a thick trunk and strong roots? A giant, immovable boulder? Or perhaps something less stable. A sapling bent far toward the ground by my weight on the rope? A small knot caught in a sharp crack in the rock face? If I moved, would the rope hold? Did I dare climb up, or ought I to go down? Was I being invited to put all my faith in the rope? Or was I being invited to notice just how precarious my position was?
For a long time since, the memory of this image has bothered me. Why such a perplexing metaphor with so many interpretations (and not all of them comforting)? As I meditate on these breadcrumbs that have led me to the invitation to remain, I am beginning to notice their complexity. These images have guided me toward a greater understanding of who God is, but they have also reflected back to me precisely what I struggle with and helped me name and take ownership of those parts of myself I have been less willing to acknowledge, like the stranger within. How kind of God to use what I can readily understand to draw me gently toward what still remains hidden, waiting to be discovered.
The Invitation to Remain
And so, my fellow pilgrims, I have not stopped praying in these past weeks that we would all have the strength of heart and the gentle attention necessary to remain in God’s love no matter what obstacles we encounter on our journey homeward.
As we walk this way together awhile, I’m curious: what kind of rope are you using, and what is it attaching you to? In what are you being invited to remain?