One of the curious things in Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey is his account of the life and work of a group of trapeze artists known as The Flying Rodleighs. He makes many observations about them – as artists as well as a community. Early on in my NPL, I was struck by his description of the special relationship between the Flyer & Catcher – clearly a metaphor. It was one of many essential things to keep in mind at the start of my year-out – and still is. Now that I’m nearing the end of my NPL, it is definitely worth revisiting. Here’s that early reference, taken off this blog:
One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.” “How does it work?” I asked. “The secret,” Rodleigh said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.”
“You do nothing!” I said, surprised. “Nothing,” Rodleigh repeated. “The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”
The flyer must never catch the catcher. He must wait in absolute trust.
For some reason, my pace of reading Sabbatical Journey has been well-timed during my own year-out. Meaning that often, I read Nouwen’s journal entries and find them speaking directly to what I’m experiencing at that point in time! So it was again, today:
After a long sleep and a relaxed breakfast with Jonathon and Karlene, I wrote for an hour in this journal and then walked with Jonathon to the tent where Rodleigh, John, Slava, and Jonathon were going to level the rigging. A trapeze act is such precision work that small irregularities in the rigging can be fatal.
I don’t often think of it that way, but: my life is “precision work”. It has to be – God is involved in every detail, down to timing, place and specific words. Never early, never late. If that isn’t precision, what is?!… So the “rigging” (read: foundation and frames of my life?) cannot tolerate any “irregularities” (read: sin, impurity, idolatry, bondage?), else the result will be fatal.
At noon I went to the tent to see the practice session. Rodleigh was teaching Slava the tripe somersault. He makes the triple into the net all right, but so far he has not been able to reach catchpoint with John. They have been touching hands, but that is all.
At the end of the practice session Rodleigh asked me if I would like to make a swing or two. I said, “Sure, I’d love to.” First he helped me get into the net and showed me how to climb the long ladder to the pedestal. It is an intimidating place to be. The space below, above and around me felt enormous and awesome. Kerri and Slava pulled me up onto the pedestal, put the safety belt around me, held me tight, and handed me the bar. As I held the bar I wondered if I would be able to hold my own weight, but when they pushed me off I felt at ease swinging above the net a few times. I tried to kick a little to get higher but simply didn’t have much breath left, so Rodleigh told me how to drop into the net. I repeated the whole sequence once more with a tiny bit more grace. …
“Reaching catchpoint” has so much to do with truly surrendering and learning to keep in step with the catcher, it seems. Sometimes, I do feel that just when I’ve learnt one catchpoint, God tells me it’s time to learn another technique and therefore practise reaching a newer, more difficult catchpoint. …
I have moments when I too “hold the bar” and wonder if I might collapse under the weight and strain of my special burdens, or falter, having seen my own iniquities and imperfections. But then God comes, and reminds me that I’m going out and jumping with Him – actually, into Him! Just enjoy the swing… don’t fret about “kicking to get higher”, for I do not go, do, speak or think in my own strength or wisdom.
“Dropping into the net” is another great challenge. There is truly a time for everything – including a time to refrain, set aside, give up, rest, die. In a go-getting environment like ours, where achievement is said to be everything, “success” can be a very tricky thing to define – and the art of letting go even trickier to master. But letting go is essential. I’ve learnt that the key is not just letting go, but: letting go and letting God. Knowing that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deut 33:27), I can happily let go of the bar – and joyfully fall when God appears to release His guiding grip.