published Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Kennedy: Even daredevils say their prayers

I was 100 percent against Nik Wallenda's high-wire walk across a side pocket of the Grand Canyon last week.

In fact, I was appalled by the very thought of it -- right up until the moment that I (along with 13 million others) turned on the Discovery Channel and watched the whole thing.

OK, I'm a hypocrite.

There was something morbid, but ultimately fascinating, about watching a guy walk a quarter of a mile on a 2-inch cable suspended above a rock canyon, just a leg cramp away from becoming a bloody pile of compound fractures.

I was amused at some of the news reports the next day that mentioned, almost as an afterthought, that Wallenda prayed during the walk. As anyone who watched the stunt knows, the entire 22-minute-plus crossing was a continuous, urgent prayer. Somebody noted on Twitter that he said "Jesus" 61 times.

He could hardly take a breath without calling on God -- in Jesus' name -- to calm the winds and steady the cable. With almost every step, he uttered a plea or a praise.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul called on early Christians to pray without ceasing. I never thought about it literally until hearing Wallenda's nonstop invocations.

The Los Angeles Times report captured some of Wallenda's quotes verbatim: "Thank you Jesus, for this beautiful view. ... Praise you, Jesus. Oh, I love you. Thank you, Jesus. ... Lord, help this cable calm down. ... Yes, Jesus. Oh, you're my Savior. Yes, Jesus. Yes, Jesus. ... God, you're so good. Thank you for this opportunity, Lord. ... Lord, help me to relax, Father. ... Help me to calm down and relax. You are my king. Help me to relax, Lord. ... Yes, Lord. Relaxed. Oh, Lord, peace."

Either Wallenda is a great actor, or he was genuinely fearful that each step across that cable could have been his last.

Far from being a literal daredevil, a reckless person who "dares the devil" to take his life, Wallenda seemed to be begging God to save him from his own dubious career path -- although he would probably never frame it that way.

Something Wallenda said before the crossing stuck with me: essentially, that all of us walk a high-wire every day. As much as we like to objectify car travel with all our fancy airbags and anti-lock brakes, the fact is most of us are potentially a split second away from death any time we put a motor vehicle into motion. In the instant it takes someone to swerve across the center line to avoid a puppy or to spill a cup of hot coffee, any of us could lose our lives.

Remember the proverb: "There are no atheists in foxholes." I wonder some time if we are not hard-wired to believe in a higher power. It seems to me to that it takes more faith to not believe in God than it does to at least "hope" there is a heavenly father.

Like many, my personal faith took root for good when I became a parent. When you have children, you become instantly aware of their physical and emotional vulnerability, no matter how vigilant you are. From the first ultrasound image of a baby's beating heart until death do you part, there is a palpable fear that comes along with being a mom or a dad.

When my sons are at risk or exposed, I sometimes fall into that Nik Wallenda prayer chant. Almost anything can trigger it, an emergency room visit, a son's first overnight camp, even the overwhelming feeling of joy that sometimes overtakes you when you stroke a sleeping child's hair.

If Nik Wallenda's high-wire walk did nothing else, it got America talking about prayer as a way to surrender to grace.

By the time he finished, "Yes Jesus" was trending on Twitter.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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