The most striking image from our holiday was looking down from a chair-lift at a piste-basher working on a precipitous slope. Piste-bashers are enormous vehicles that compress and then comb the snow so that pistes are firm and smooth to ski on. It must take some nerve to drive one down the mountain.
We noticed that this piste-basher was attached to a long cable, which seemed to run the length of the mountain. Following it back, and back, and back, we traced it to a red pole at the edge of the piste. Clearly the pole could not anchor such a heavy machine, but marked the location of an anchor-point secured in the rock of the mountain itself. And in deep snow, or thickly falling snow, such a marker is essential.
It struck me that much of what I do – the round of services some might see as church-ianity – is concerned with maintaining the red pole, as a crucial reference-point especially though not only when circumstances disorientate.
The more I see of people’s lives, of the circumstances they have to deal with, the less life looks like the adventure of running down a slope on skis where, even if you crash out from time to time, you are unlikely to get badly hurt; and the more it looks like the far scarier prospect of being responsible for a piste-basher going over the edge.
God is the rock, the anchor, and the cable that holds us. A Trinitarian image: for as the Spirit points us to Jesus, and Jesus points us to the Father, so the cable connects us to the anchor and the anchor connects us to the rock.
I’m struck by those who return, again and again, to the ‘red poles’ of the mid-week Communion services, or of a still-but-open building to pray, to stand in silent worship, to find sanctuary. To come back to Jesus before heading out over the edge again.
My tradition sometimes entertains the temptation to see such actions as at worst empty superstition, at best not enough. On their part, or on ours. But I have looked over the precipice. For some, this is not only enough, it is a life-line.