The Other Voice at the Top of the Slope

The Rev. Miles R. Brandon, II is the vicar of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, a four and a half year old church plant of the Diocese of Texas located in far Northwest Austin.  Miles is married to Ashley Brandon, chaplain at St. Andrew's Episcopal School and graduate of Seminary of the Southwest.  They have two children Amelia (4) and Mary Ellen (1).

As I reflected on the Rev. Jimmy Bartz’s thoughtful and engaging Payne lecture, I was left wondering what is the actual tiny push…the soul bracing moment…that empowers our courage and quickens our resolve just enough to step over the edge into the unknown…the undiscovered future…the potential life-giving relationships we are yet to form.

Jimmy showed a powerful video from the Go Pro camera of a young girl, perhaps 10 years of age, who conquered a 40-foot ski jump. As the video opens, she is at the top of the jump looking down and is filled with deep and sincere fear…bordering on sheer terror (and I must say it seemed warranted…I got the chills looking down the jump myself even on video!). She starts and steps back. She talks to herself…trying to soothe herself that it is not that much larger a jump that those she has been on before…that she can surely do it…and that the flight itself will be glorious. However, at this point, it is not clear she will actually push off…the fear is palpable. But sure enough resolve quickens in the girl, and she finds just enough courage to push herself forward on the down slope just enough that there truly is no return. And she does fly gloriously through the air with screams of delight and lands safely, confidently and full of vigor for pushing her accomplishments even further.

But again the thing that caught my attention was back up top. What was it…what was the tiny push that quickened her resolve…that allowed her to find in herself just enough courage to push off. And as I reflected on this question, I remembered that at the top of the slope, though all you see is the girls ski tips and the jump before her, there is another voice speaking to her as she moves through her paralyzing fear and into a bold and risky action. We don’t ever see the person. It sounded like a grown up…maybe her ski-instructor or an older sibling…but whoever it was…she was not alone at the top of the slope staring down at the daunting task that was before her. The voice was gentle but confident. It didn’t push her. It didn’t try to coerce her into going. There was no…so and so has already done this…come on now others want to go…you’re acting like a wimp…you’ve got this easily…or any such thing. It was just a reassuring, calm voice giving advice and talking her through her technique.

I suppose I think courage is fostered, as all things are in the spiritual life, in community. It is so much easier to walk a dark and lonely road with a partner sharing a story or song as you make your way. Indeed as a church our challenge is to build friendships with God’s beloved we are yet to know, to enter into places and contexts of tremendous pain with a word of hope, to divest ourselves of any sense of entitlement that our witness can come from a place of authentic humility…all things Jimmy mentioned…all things that are inherently risky and fear inducing. And, in fact, the scope of the task is so great that no single person can go it alone, and the courage required for this bold task is greater than any one person can muster.

So we stand at the top of that slope together…speaking words of encouragement to each other…no guilt…no undue pressure…just speaking words of love and advice…a calm and peaceful presence that braces the soul and quickens our resolve. I can only do this with you and you can only do this with me, but together, with God’s Spirit providing the nourishment needed for the journey, we can.