Cliff Diving and Discipleship
By Brenda Kern
My heart skipped a beat, literally. I felt my heart falter, then right itself again, for the only time in my recollection.
It was January 1984, and I was privileged to witness the cliff diving spectacle in Acapulco, Mexico in person. You might have seen this event on television, as I had in my childhood. It's been aired many times on various sports programs. This sounds cliché, but I can vouch for this truth in this case: you don't really GET the full thrill of it unless you're seeing it with your own eyes. The inlet where they dive is tiny and extremely narrow, and many aspects of it fool the eye, especially the eye of a viewer like me--I don't have great "spatial sense" anyway. It seems like a jump too far out will cause the diver to crash into the opposite side's rock wall, while a leap that doesn't gain enough distance from the edge will send the diver to his death against the rocks below on his own side of the V-shaped crag.
The divers climb barefoot up the cliff opposite the audience, a handhold at a time, then they make a show of praying at a small shrine atop the cliff, and then the wait begins: a long period of walking, stretching, testing the wind, and building up the suspense.
Finally, the first diver made his leap—a beautiful swan dive, and one of those rare elasticized moments occurred. Time stretched itself out, and he seemed suspended, impossibly frozen in midair, and my heart did its thing. I thought he had made an error that would prove to be fatal—a jump too far, or not far enough. I thought he might possibly not impact either cliff face, but the rocks below would claim his life, or the impact would... And I felt that odd mixture of feelings—sorry that he was going to die, wincing at what it was going to look like, but mildly excited to be an eyewitness to an event that would "make the news."
My heart's so-far ceaseless drudgery began again, time creaked back into its rhythm, and the diver obeyed the laws of gravity, arcing down into the water. And he popped back up, smiling and waving at the crowds, just seconds later. No ugly impact, no tragedy!
That evening I couldn't sleep, as my mind kept tugging at a by-then familiar personal debate of mine. Whenever I've witnessed acts we would now categorize as "extreme sports," like skydiving, bungee jumping, etc., I've always wondered some things: Who thinks up this stuff? How many died before the first successful participant? (Successful, in this instance, meaning, "lived to tell about it.") How, exactly, does the world move from "Don't jump out of a plane, you'll die," to "Jump out of a plane…it's great!" in one day?
The answer is: you can now jump out of a plane (or off a cliff or a bridge) and live through it, even enjoy it, because someone else did it BEFORE you. Someone showed you the way. All you have to do is follow the example of the instructor, remember your training, and use the equipment provided –equipment that has been perfected for this very purpose through trial and unfortunate error.
Is an analogy between cliff diving and discipleship crystallizing for you by now? We can be disciples and live through it, even enjoy it, because Someone did it before us. Someone showed us the way. In fact, He referred to Himself as "The Way, the Truth, and the Life." When in doubt, follow the example of the Instructor, remember your training (the earliest Sunday School lesson you can remember all the way through to last night's Bible study), and use the equipment provided, which is God's word, prayer, and encouragement from other parts of the Body, . . .
And it's great!
Brenda Kern is a grown-up preacher's kid and has been a Christian most of her life. She enjoys writing articles and essays sharing her insights on faith and Bible stories, as well as the occasional humorous story from her "real life." Brenda has had several of her stories included in the FaithWriters’ books. You may write to Brenda care of the Letters page of this magazine.
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