Don’t Look Down

Taken from Fr David Hostetler’s (Navy Chaplain stationed in Okinawa) weekly message.

DON’T LOOK DOWN! Years ago I took a motorcycle riders’ safety class. One of the things they told us was to never look down, because while riding a motorcycle wherever you look that’s where you’re going to wind up. Look down and you’ll fall. This has stuck with me even after many years because it applies to so many things in life.We spend far too much time worrying about what we have done wrong and where we messed up, instead of considering what we’ve done right and for what we’re striving. So, rather than berate ourselves for where we messed up, we should look to where we got it right, using our ideals and goals to redirect ourselves and fix what is wrong. For example, the difference between those who support the recent National Anthem protestors and those who oppose them isn’t in denying America has faults; neither side denies the ugly aspects of American history. Only one, however, loves their country in spite of them, choosing to focus on positives from a fealty that could not imagine living elsewhere. The other would love America if it lived up to its self-stated ideals, skeptically wondering if it ever will and happy to go somewhere less embarrassing. Though the latter might describe the former as fallen under a blind love, G.K. Chesterton compared patriotism of this kind to a wife’s love of her husband.

 “The same women who are ready to defend their men through thick and thin are (in their personal intercourse with the man) almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head. A man’s friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else. Women who are utter mystics in their creed are utter cynics in their criticism … The devotee is entirely free to criticise; the fanatic can safely be a sceptic. Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”

This Sunday we will remember St John Climacus, known as such on for his book The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John describes in detail the steps it takes to ascend from earth to heaven, and the very first step is Renunciation of the World. But he doesn’t begin to describe the world, he begins by describing God. “Our God and King is good, ultra-good and all-good (it is best to begin with God in writing to the servants of God).” No navigator can chart a course without first knowing the destination. Knowing where we’re headed we can begin to climb, but we need to always look up towards our goal. If we look down towards what we’ve left behind—like Lot’s wife looking over her shoulder as she fled Sodom—we’ll fall off of the ladder. It’s no coincidence that in the icon of St. John’s ladder there are demons flying underneath, pulling pilgrims down.

This is why St Paul encouraged the Philippians to think about “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report.” The peace of God resides in such things. When we focus on them, and on Christ, then we can ascend the Ladder confidently, and we’ll begin to change our viewpoint from one who doubts our ability to climb, to one who knows that on our own we really can’t but makes the effort anyway. Like the hapless father we cry out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The more we bind ourselves to Christ, the more we become aware of our reliance upon His grace and mercy. The more we bind ourselves to our fellow climbers the more we will be able to see what is truly there, and not what we want or imagine we see when we simply look down on them. What looks like anger may be really be pain, what looks like bitterness may actually be loneliness. What before we couldn’t see will become inescapably evident when we bind ourselves closely to others in love, then we will recognize in others’ struggles a suffering much like our own. Then we will be seeing with the eyes of Jesus, while still looking up into His face, into His image there in the person in front of us. Always look up. Never look down.