My Mom used to tell the semi-apocryphal story of a French tight-rope walked who practiced his craft in the19th century before the advent of television, or even radio for that matter..
was a funambulist superstar in his days and people would travel for miles to see him perform death-defying acts that transcended their imaginations. He was one of the first to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope and one of the first to cross it without a funambulist’s balancing stick.
Blondin would spend up to a month in Niagara Falls crossing the falls each day. Crowds would gather and pay for the best seats. At each crossing a young boy of about eleven years old would come and watch.
Blondin was his hero. It wasn’t long before he memorized Blondin’s routine. Blondin always faked a fall in the middle of his crossing and the crowd always gasped in fear. The boy learned to see when the slip would occur and he’d watch the crowd and laugh at their fear, for he knew Blondin would never fall.
One summer while they were in the height of the season the crowds began to dwindle because, like the boy, the crowds knew that this Frenchman’s feat was no feat to him at all. He simply made it look difficult. But for him it was no different than walking out to get the morning paper. With the danger alleviated, the act grew stale and the crowds stopped coming. Blondin and his manager’s purse took a hit. They huddled together to create ways to rebuild the excitement. They decided that they would push someone across the falls in a wheel barrow. The question was who would do such a thing? The manager had heard of this young lad and so he summoned him to meet Blondin in the famous Frenchman’s hotel.
The boy was awe struck at getting to meet his hero. Soon he was gushing as boys in awe are often prone to do, once they overcome their fear. “Mr Blondine, Sir, you are so amazing. I watch you every day and I know when you are going to fake your fall and the crowd will all gasp and I laugh and laugh at them. I know you will never fall, M.r Blondin. You are too good for that…” The word’s spilled out of his mouth as fast as he could get them out.
“”So you don’t think I would ever fall?” Blondin asked.
“Oh no, Mr Blondin. You would never fall!”
“Well young man, I need to push someone across the Falls in a wheel barrow. Would you be willing to get in the wheel barrow and let me push you across?”
“Oh, no, not me Mr Blondin!” cried the boy as he fled the room.
At that moment in the story my Mom would turn to the congregation and ask, “Did the boy truly believe? Do you?” Then she would simply turn and leave the stage in silence.
She told the story as a story of belief. That is clearly he case. I also believe it to be a story of grace. The boy hadn’t experienced enough grace to want to get into the wheel barrow. He had only experienced enough grace to laugh at those who were scared. His laughter tells a psychological story of needing to escape from his own fear. He is able to experience his fear vicariously through the fear of others without really touching it at all. It is a safe way for him to feel something akin to that which he cannot face. He has not experienced enough grace to face that unfaceable fear however, and so he runs away, leaving Blondin’s manager to ride across the falls in a wheelbarrow in his stead.
Too many times we are like the boy. We experience enough grace to escape our fears or our pains and so we are satisfied. And yet, Jesus didn’t die so we could escape our tormented psyches. He died so we could live lives that overflow love and which in turn give grace to those around us so they too might find real life.
A grace fall is a fall into a new life devoid of paralyzing fear because the bottom has already been achieved and nothing more can be done to me that has not already been done. My fears were realized and still I lived.
When we live through our fears, discovering that they did not kill us and that God is indeed bigger than the fears themselves, we can truly experience grace. Once this grace is discovered everything is different. We live in a world where we are not threatened, and can grow and change as the Spirit moves inside of us. When this happens we are no longer bound and controlled by our past sealing into our present moments at the most inopportune times. We experience a “grace to;” We experience a gracefall and the wheel barrow doesn’t seem so frightening anymore.
Are you ready for such a gracefall?