On God, Tightropes, and Wheelbarrows
Joseph Anthony Petro
There’s this old story still going around
About a tightrope walker pushing a man
In a wheelbarrow across a tightrope
Suspended over Niagara Falls.
The story is supposed to illustrate
How we, if we truly have faith in God,
Need to get in the wheelbarrow
And allow ourselves to be pushed
Across the tightrope in the wheelbarrow.
Belief is thinking the tightrope walker can do it,
Faith is getting in the wheelbarrow.
Of course we’re all supposed to say:
“Well, that sounds hard, but yes, I’ll do it.
I want that kind of surrender-faith.”
May I give you my slant on this whole idea
Of wheelbarrows and tightropes, and Gods
That want us to do this sort of thing?
Any God that requires someone
To get in a wheelbarrow on a tightrope
And be pushed across, is not God.
Any God that tells Abraham to tie
His son to a rock and sacrifice him
Is not God. If he is, then join me up
With the local Atheist Society.
My God, works on the ground,
In a garden, on a bright, spring day.
My God doesn’t need me
To prove anything to him
Or anyone else. My God
Isn’t a performer of feats
Of audacity and sheer stupidity.
My God’s on the ground, working
In a garden, and one day (every day) says to me:
“Hey there, want a ride in the wheelbarrow?”
And I am free to get in or not. My faith
Is not tested one bit regardless
Of my answer. If I want to stay out of the wheelbarrow
That’s fine, I can putz around the garden
All day, all life, looking for bugs and rocks and other treasures,
And God will just wave every now and then
As he goes by and I can go over and show him
The praying mantis I found and he’ll say,
“Wow, that’s really cool. Now let it go.”
But for the sake of this discussion, let’s say I get in,
And God begins pushing the wheelbarrow,
And it’s still got a little dirt in it and I like that,
And the sides are hard and cold as I hold on tight,
And I like that too, it feels safe and solid,
And God pushes, slowly at first, but then
Picks up a little speed, and is soon
Dashing along the border of the garden
And the wind is blowing through my hair,
And I am laughing, and a kid again—
A kid the whole time, forever, in a wheelbarrow.
And maybe God keeps walking–slows
To a steady gate, and I drift to sleep,
And God, being God, just keeps walking
And pushing the wheelbarrow,
And whenever I choose, he stops,
Lets me push, and maybe even,
On real, heretical days, gets in himself
Lets me push, or at very least, give other people,
Other kids, rides around the garden.
Or maybe he gets in, and because he’s God
Can make the wheelbarrow go without
Anyone pushing it, and so we can both
Ride together, and I can allow myself
To sink into his arms as the wheelbarrow
Sails across the field, and I can stick my hands out
And brush the tall, passing grass, or the nodding
Sunflowers, and maybe the wheelbarrow can
Grow and grow and grow and fit
As many kids as want to get in.
That all sounds much better to me,
Than getting in a wheelbarrow, on a tightrope,
Over Niagara Falls, and being pushed across.