They put the fun in funambulism.
Tightrope walking is from the Latin words funis (rope) and ambulare (walk). The art was practiced in ancient Egypt and first century China where “rope dancing” was performed over knives stuck in the ground, pointing upward.
In North America, funambulism was taken to new heights during the 1850s when Frenchman Jean Francois Gravelet got international attention by performing a number of stunts overtop Niagara Falls. Known as The Great Blondin, he would often ask his audience, “Who is certain I can walk the wire safely to the other side with someone on my shoulders?” From among the enthusiastic believers, he would choose one and say, “Then come with me!” No one would.
In many ways, Jesus asks essentially the same question and often gets the same response from those of us who claim to believe. We say we have faith, but fear keeps us from letting him carry us when the way seems fraught with danger. Instead, we stay where it’s safe. Trouble is, where there is no risk, there is no reward. Any meaningful relationship, with God or another human being, must be built on absolute, unwavering trust. A trust that knows the dangers of handing your heart to another, but decides the risk is worth it.
Seen from another perspective, all Christians are meant to be like those tightrope walkers who boldly step across a half-inch wire, three storeys in the air. We’re called to rise above the world and accept the responsibilities that come with higher living. Anxiety gives way to exhilaration when we find balance, poise and confidence in Christ. We can do that by understanding how high wire artists work.
When standing upright, every human body has a spot called “the centre of mass”, the point where the overall bulk of the body is concentrated. If the high wire artist’s centre of mass isn’t kept directly above the wire, gravity makes the performer rotate to one side or the other. If this isn’t corrected, the tightrope walker falls. In other words, the secret to balance is to keep the body absolutely centred above the wire.
Think of your eternal spirit as your “centre of mass” and Jesus as the wire that gets you from one end of life to the other, up above the world and its distractions. The key to spiritual balance is to stay perfectly centred on Christ. “Everything else is worthless when compared to the priceless gain of knowing Christ,” Paul writes (Phil. 3:8)
But to keep that equilibrium, we can’t be constantly looking at the crowd. We can’t look back at where we’ve been. And we can’t be so focused on what’s right in front of us that we take our eyes off the safety and security found in our final destination.
Still, many of us try to get there with a bag of garbage in each hand. To bring real balance to our lives, we need to know what to put down, and what to pick up. On knowing Jesus, Paul says “I’ve discarded everything else, counting it as garbage so I may have Christ and be one with him.” (3:9) We, too, need to put down the trash and “hold tightly to the truth, ‘the word of life.’” (2:16).
That word is like those forty-foot balancing poles carried by the wire walkers. Just as those poles slow the speed at which the performer tips when balance is lost — allowing more time to get back in the proper position — the promises of God give us something to hold onto until we can re-centre on Christ and get back our equilibrium.
Expect setbacks, but don’t let them steal your confidence. “I’m still not all I should be,” says Paul, but… “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end… and receive the prize for which God, through Christ, is calling us up to heaven.” (3:12,13) Notice, life on the wire means walking upwards. It takes intense focus and effort. But if we truly know and trust Jesus, the Christian balancing act will emphasize the balancing and not the act.