I leapt into the waters, too. What struck me most was that there was time to think on the way down! My profound reflection? "Gee, it's a lot farther to the water than I thought."
This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 24 September 2009.
So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. — Philippians 4:1a
It was one of the oddest conversations I’ve had as a mother, and as any parent knows, strange conversations are standard parenting fare. Held on a rock ledge jutting out over Crater Lake late on a scorching hot July afternoon, I was trying to help my 13-year-old son, Chris, decide whether or not to jump into the incredibly blue — and deep —waters.
Part of him wanted to cling to the safety of the cliff, another part was willing to take that last step and join his brother frolicking in the cool depths.
“Don’t let anyone push you into going. I love you no matter what,” I assured him. It was a big step, physically and mentally, and he was clearly searching heart and soul to see if he was ready to make it. It would take courage either way — to pass up the chance for adventure and face the inevitable taunts of brother and cousins, or to take that leap of faith. In the end he decided to go, still nervous, but stepping deliberately off into space. Bemusedly, I turned to my husband and said, “Did I just talk my son into jumping off a cliff?”
This last Sunday at my friend Kathy’s celebration of her 50 years as a Sister of St. Joseph, I thought of my conversation on the cliffside and Chris’ great leap.
Maybe that conversation was less about facing a particular jump than practicing for all of the jumps Chris and Mike will face in their lives. What do you choose to hold on to? What will you throw yourself into space for, tumbling, unable to control your path? When? Now?
Fidelity requires the strength both to cling and to let go, to know when to take a huge step and when to wait.
In the lives of Kathy, and in her sisters in Christ, I see clearly that virtue of fidelity. Clearly rooted in God, she has surrendered to His work, which took her in directions she never imagined. She has cared for the poorest of the poor in the slums of the Philippines and taught quantum physics to doctoral students on the Main Line with equal joy and humility.
Between them, the women gathered in celebration had centuries of dyings and risings in Christ. I was, and am, in awe. Like Chris, they leapt into the unknown, having no idea where they might go or what they might become — clinging only to the knowledge that they are beloved of God.
My sons are on the cusp of their lives. I have no idea where they might go, what they might become, what cliffs they might face. I pray only that they might have such fidelity to the Gospel, such certainty in God’s love, that a half-century from now, they’ll know they were right to leap.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.