“My ideas are always changing, always moving around one center, and I am always seeing that center from somewhere else. Hence, I will always be accused of inconsistency. But I will no longer be there to hear the accusation.” – Thomas Merton
When I was a kid, my friends and I would go to an amusement park where our favorite ride was The Wall of Death, a big wooden cylinder that spun round and round. As it spun faster, riders would be pinned to the wall and the floor would drop out. It wasn’t magic that held us there, we knew that, and yet it felt that way. There we’d be, our feet meters above the ground, freed from gravity, free to perform whatever stunts our courage allowed. My friends wound hang upside down, climb the wall up to the edge and look out, or make their way across to the other side. My courage didn’t allow that. I started from a place of fear. Watching other riders from above was dizzying enough. What am I doing, I’d think? It took all the courage I had just to move from spectator to participant. Then once there in the cylinder, as the machinery started us spinning, I’d close my eyes, hope for the best, and invariably start to panic.
What if the operator spun us too fast? What if he kept us spinning too long? What if the whole thing spun off its axis? Around the time the floor would drop away, I’d be imagining myself flung right out of the ride into space. Then, it happened. I’d feel a rush of joy surge through me. As the ride slowed down and came to a stop, that joy became release, and I’d stumble out into the world, amazed that I was still alive. Before long, I’d get back in line with the others and experience that whole range of emotions all over again: fear, hope, panic, joy, release.
That’s sort of the way I lived my whole life until one day not all that long ago when I realized I didn’t have to live like that. I didn’t have to keep doing the same thing over and over again hoping to get the same rush and range of emotions. I didn’t have to keep riding the wall of death. I could break the cycle, start from a different place, and experience life in a new way.
I met someone who helped me with that. A few months ago, I was sitting alone at a cafe in Burgos, Spain watching other pilgrims head off when a man came to join me at the table. He was huge, carried a big walking stick, and had a radiant smile. “What are you afraid of, man?” he asked as he sat down. How did he know? Well,” I said, “I’m about to walk the Camino and I’m not sure I can do this.” He smiles and says, “Let me tell you how to walk the Camino. Your way.”
Then, he opens up an empty plastic bag and holds it out to me. “Put all your fears in here,” he says. “The Camino ain’t no wall of death. It’s a circle of joy. Fill the bag with those fears, man. Those are stones that will throw you off balance. Drop them. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
When he comes back he says, “You didn’t hold anything back did you?” I tell him I didn’t. Then he takes the bag from me and makes a big deal out of carrying it over to the trash and throwing it away. “Now, stand up and start walking”, he says. “Break the cycle. Start with joy.”
So I stand up, put my pack on, thank him and start walking. “Wait up,” he yells. “I’ve got something for you.” I stop and wait as he runs up and wraps me in a hug. “Brother,” he says, “your joy’s going to refresh the hearts of the saints.” Who is this man whose encouragement and love has just refreshed my heart? I ask him. “They call my Patrick, but I’m just another guy who said no to the wall of death.” He waves me off and I walk on into my Camino.
I’d like to tell you that it was that easy, but it wasn’t. New fears have turned up since then, and at times I have panicked. I’ve even lost hope once or twice. But I know what to do now to break the cycle. I get out a bag, fill it full of my fears, and throw it away. If you’re looking for me in the line to get back on the Wall of Death, I’m no longer there. I don’t need that whole range and rush of emotions. I see my center differently. I know I can start with joy, and I know you could, too. We could start everyday that way. Say no to the wall of death. Break the cycle. Start with joy.
Read Philemon 1-7