Swaying on the Tight Rope of Life: A Spiritual Perspective


Is your life presently characterized by equanimity in the crossing, or by violent wobbling and threat of crashing?

This past Sunday in my sermon (“Discipleship” 1/5/14) I made a reference to the story of Charles Blondin, famous tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls, but particularly from the perspective of the man he carried on his back as he did so – Harry Colcord, his manager, and in this scenario, his would-be disciple.

As I shared the harrowing story of being precariously mounted on a famous tightrope walkers back, gripping and clawing like a cat wavering over a huge bathtub, I found myself drawn into the story, not just the telling of it, but even afterwards in fruitful private reflection. And like the previous image of the ship on the waves, this too has become stock image in my catalog of spiritual reflection:


In particular it is the tendency to counter-balance, that captures me. Imagine – being perched on a wavering man’s back – except for him it is not wavering; it is probably a normal part of the process of crossing. Admittedly I am no tightrope walker, but I can imagine that over-compensating must be the demise of the walker, that is to say, swaying to one side and then reactively swaying to the other to balance – this creates volatility. And I think it is almost a rule of nature and life that the more we react, the more volatile a situation becomes.

Swaying to one side is an inevitability. And sometimes we just have to go with it – of course, not to eventually keel over and to fall – but to allow the balance rod to do its work, to place our faith NOT in our over-correcting ability, but in the rope, the balancing rod, the laws of physics around us, trusting that we will sway back – if we wait. And if we don’t try to auto-correct.

And that’s precisely and incisively the point, isn’t it?

It’s intuitive to save ourselves, to sway in the opposite direction of fear, but if the analogy serves us correct, then the mojo is in the middle; lingering in that threshold of allowing ourselves to fall into the hands of Providence, but finding instead that we are righted, brought back to center, and it was the everlasting Arms that did so, not us. It is simply counter-intuitive to do this:

Psalm 37:8 “Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.”

But it is the right thing. And sometimes it is the best first thing we can do; not fret. Not reactively counter-balance. But to trust that God arights. To take deliverance out of our immediate hands, to rely less on our best thinking (which oftentimes got us into this mess in the first place – our “bright” ideas).

Add to it all the more that you have placed your fate in the hands of another, as was the case of Harry Colcord, whose “righting reflex” almost got the best of both of them:

Blondin: “Harry, you are (no longer Harry); you are Blondin! Until I clear this place, be a part of me—mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we shall both go down to our death!”

Perhaps therein is the spiritual principle and application; stop trying to balance yourself with anxiety-driven actions and fretting; sway instead with the elements, the wire, the circumstances; sway with the one on whose back you are perched, trusting the balance pole, trusting his words, trusting Him – ANYTHING… but yourself.


Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

3 thoughts on “Swaying on the Tight Rope of Life: A Spiritual Perspective

  1. How easy it is to ‘overcompensate’ not only in our personal spiritual life, but also our theological life. It seems to me that much of the tensions in the church result from various kinds of theological overcompensation against things that were perhaps seen to be

      1. yeah, I’ve been out of coverage area for a while, but still reading around. I decided recently to ‘get back in the game’ so to speak. But yeah, I’m in Ghana these days.

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