As a kid, I always loved it when my dad would throw me up in the air. There was always a hairs-breadth line between uncontrollable giggling from joy and uncontrollable urination from fear. I never really thought about why it was so memorable and enjoyable until I became a father when we adopted three siblings a few years back. Almost by instinct, and probably on the first day we had them at the house, I grabbed little Davey up by the armpits and hurled him into the air. Suddenly, my childhood joy made sense to me as a few things happened.
First, my wife–and everyone around me–gasped and made desperate lunges for the boy. Yes, people seemed to think I was actually capable of hurling him too high into the air, to the point where he’d either get lost in orbit, or at least get hit by a low-flying African Swallow. Apparently, this pic is true:
Second, the air was filled with the unforgettable sound of involuntary belly laughter, the kind that makes you laugh along with it just as involuntarily. Davey’s eyes shone, his head flew back, and he went completely “rigor risus” (stiffness of laughter). I quickly caught him and held him close just to check in on him and make sure the scales between fear and fun tipped in fun’s direction. They did.
So, I reared up and launched him for another flight, this time with a twist. It goes without saying that I wanted to see how high I could truly get him. And, why not? The more time he’s in the air, the more time I have to get ready to catch him, right? The addition was that I also started trying to see how long I could wait before I caught him, and as soon as I started doing that, the game was out of control.
Davey’s laughter hit new heights (pun!), I was enthralled, and the people around me went into that awkward sniggering people do when they’re not sure if what just happened is okay, like when I insist that my 10-year-old drives home as I leave the grocery store because I’m “just too tired”.
Interestingly, as the game’s intensity increased, Davey made one alteration on his part. He didn’t stop laughing or enjoying himself. He didn’t beg me to stop. He just shifted from the initial head-thrown-back posture to maintaining eye contact with me the entire time. Still the smiles, still the screams, still the glitter in his eyes, just intent on me.
And it’s always like that with the “toss me” game, I’m finding. Give it a shot. Stop reading, go outside, grab a kid, and toss him up in the air a few times. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your own kid, but the game and outcome changes drastically if it isn’t.
I gradually came to realize something about how this activity effected everyone involved. It wasn’t the height that brought enjoyment to me and Davey and concern to those around; it was the time I waited to catch him. That’s when the theology kicked in. In the biz, we call it the “that’ll preach” moment.
So often Christianity, Catholicism in particular, gets the reputation for being dank and daft, more comfortable in the Middle Ages than Modernity. On the contrary, Christianity is not one of servile obedience, where you routinely kill every enjoyment so that your sour and scowling face will get you through the pearly gates. Christians do not punch the religion card so that the God monkey will stay off of their back for the week. This faith is not one of willful ignorance and denial of science and statistics. We don’t hide out inside cold, stone sanctuaries, afraid of what lies outside the church doors.
In my experience, Christianity, including every single tradition, Tradition, doctrine, and dogma providentially accumulated over the course of 2,000 years, serves to adequately prepare and facilitate us for the mystically intimate relationship with God that He offers. At the heart of this faith is the simple act of scurrying up to your “Abba”, saying yes to His offered hands, and then letting Him hurl you into the air.
Everything that is true of my “game of throws” with Davey is true of our relationship with God. As the Church as a whole, and we as individuals, progress and endure in divine intimacy, we increasingly find that He not only tosses us into higher, more exhilarating situations, but our eyes increasingly fix on His, as well. The most fun, in my humble opinion, comes from the times He waits a bit longer to catch you than He has before.
Whether it’s been moving to a new country, giving the biggest bill in my wallet when a beggar asks for change, or adopting a third child with only $.07 in our bank account, God has proven time and again that no matter how high and far He tosses me, and no matter how long He seems to wait until He catches me, He won’t drop me. He can’t drop me.
He can’t drop you.
Capable is too chintzy of a word to describe His grasp on the situation. A better term would, of course, be the more biblical one: faithful. If he begins a good work, He is faithful to complete it. When we are unfaithful, when we bungle it and wriggle in the air, even trying to get away, He still catches us. As I’ve said elsewhere, you can trust Him.
None of our minds can fathom, none of our eyes have ever seen, and none of our ears have remotely taken in what He is able to do if we merely look Him in the eye and say, “Let it be done unto me.” When we come to the sanctuary, our place of refuge and safety, we place ourselves in His care and compassion. We receive forgiveness, strength, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Then, in an exhilarating move, our Father tosses us through the doors, out into the world with a simple, “Go, glorifying God by your lives!” And the game of catch begins, with the sanctuary as our gravity, pulling us back each time we reach the arc of our momentum.
And lest we get too proud of ourselves in this journey, the Church consistently reminds us how beautifully small our part in the scenario is. My son does very little when I toss him, besides letting me do so. It is the same with God. Christianity is, in essence, less like an admirable leap of faith, or even a trust fall, and much, much more like a good old game of “toss the kids around”. No matter how long you’re in the air, it’s always worth it to land in His loving, scarred hands.