I believe I err as a Christian …
I believe I err as a Christian if I think the stairs aren’t high, or won’t at times be terrifying to climb, or I’ll never fall. No. I will say instead, God is at the top, and if I keep walking, I’ll see Him.
When I was four years old, I lived in upstate New York, where my father worked as a deejay for small radio stations in several cities. Visiting him at one meant climbing a set of wrought iron stairs bolted to the back of the building — on the outside. At that age, I couldn’t see woven wrought iron, but only a perilous pattern of gaping maws. A horizontal surface — the step — let through gusts of air. Verticals — the spaces between steps — were pure oxygen: crevasses on Everest.
I clumped upward, clenching the railings as if throttling steel, believing at every moment a stair would give, and I would slip, then fall, then disappear into Mount Doom’s furnace, or become an eternal Alice falling down down down down …
I never fell. What I did was keep walking. It wasn’t because I knew my mom would protect me, or that I’d done it a hundred times, or that others — like my sister — had no fear. And it wasn’t because the stairs weren’t high. They were.
I did it every day for one reason: my father waited at the top.
I never conquered my fear of the steps; I conquered the steps. I knew they must be high — for my father, my hero, dwelt in high places. Of course, seeking God leads into mountains. Where else would He be?
I’m know I’m not the first person to notice this.
In The Last Battle, book seven in The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis describes the decision to walk past our fear of what lies above as ‘further up and further in.’ In The Great Divorce, he imagines the spirits in heaven, ‘live only to journey further into the mountains.’
The late John Gardner talks of reaching such heights in writing, as well. He says writers — sometimes at our most angelic moments of composition — “become suddenly self-conscious, self-doubting … human, fallible, vulnerable to anxiety and shame.” I long to be raised up, but cannot, because I’m “miserably unworthy, shy in the presence of the holy, and afraid of heights.”
I’ve learned life not only involves fear … but requires it — or more precisely, conquering it. I must grow more fearful of staying on supposedly solid ground than of a fall that may never come or those already suffered. Imperfect efforts, I’ve found, either succeed … or are patiently corrected by a God who dwells in the highest mountains.
I’m sometimes still afraid of heights, stairs still sway when I exhale, and I occasionally fall — even as I keep walking.
Further up and further in.
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