Suddenly the steering doesn’t work. I try to negotiate the turn, but our car spins off the road, off the edge of a cliff — a cliff so high that there is ample time for sheer terror as we fall. I want to scream, but I can’t. I find myself standing, foolishly, on the brakes. The car noses down nearly vertically, and then begins a mid-air tumble. My family is shouting suggestions. I lurch awake in a cold sweat, the victim of another nightmare of falling.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a mortal fear of heights. As a consequence, I often find myself in very high places (usually with my kids) as I deliberately challenge this fear: driving a bridge span, walking out on a windswept balcony, careening around in a roller coaster, flying in a small plane. The desensitization has, over the years, worked well enough to change my behavior, but not my feelings. Nothing seems to destroy that small hard kernel of fear.
I recently found myself at the top of the tallest human-made structure in the world, the CN Tower, which is the premier landmark of Toronto.
One section of that tower has a glass floor which allows you to view the world hundreds of meters below you from between your feet. It was fascinating to watch people’s reactions. Some stepped out calmly onto the floor with a look that reflected their puzzlement: Why was this such a big deal? Others stepped more gingerly, but rapidly gained confidence. Still others just watched for several minutes before they even tried to participate. Some, no matter how much they were coaxed, absolutely refused even to try.
I stood at the edge, frozen. I was incapable of taking a step over the void, a step where the bottom dropped out of the world. It didn’t matter what my mind dictated. I knew it was safe. I knew that it would hold me. I knew that it was as sound as the solid floor upon which I stood. I could see others enjoying the experience. It didn’t matter. The fear was so visceral, so physical, so commanding, I couldn’t move my feet.
Finally, I simply closed my eyes, took three steps forward onto the glass, and then and only then, I looked. There between my dusty shoes was as much straight downness as I’ve ever seen. I forced myself again and again to step and look and step and look until the fear was replaced with an excitement
We are taught from birth how to become responsible citizens, capable of meeting our own needs and ordering our lives. We learn how to take control, to plan, to execute our plans. Everything in our life’s training, our education, our socialization is directed toward making us self-sufficient, efficient, effective people. Most of us build strong floors upon which to stand, and we feel comfortable and confident that
they will, in most of life, sustain us.
Faith, on the other hand, is a glass floor. God calls us to become again “as children,” giving up our control and our plans and our effectiveness to do the Divine Will on earth. God calls us out into the places where we are suspended over the very pits of hell, the places where we gain a sickeningly realistic perspective of our vulnerability. God calls us to trust, to step out into what we most fear, to conquer evil in this world.
It’s been said that the most revealing microscope we each have into our own soul is that which provokes our fear or anger. If, with God’s assistance, we meet what we most want to avoid, we are marching forward in faith. If we trust all of our lives to the Architect, we will find that the mansions Jesus prepares for us are all glass — glass to let in the Light, glass to reveal our innermost selves, glass to step out onto in faith.