When I was an early teenager, our family went to Moncton during our summer vacation and spent a day at the water park, Magic Mountain. Wave pools, waterslides, fun in the sun. And towering above it all was the Kamikaze, the 100-foot-plus speed slide that, according to the park’s website, sends sliders down at speeds of up to 60 km/h. I had heard about the Kamikaze, named for the Japanese aircraft in World War II which, in the words of Wikipedia, “were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles,” and the way that you dropped from top to bottom in almost no time at all at a near-vertical slope. My friends had talked it up, and I was excited to give it a try.
Then I saw it. It looked way worse than I imagined, and the view from the top was stomach-turning. I can still remember the climb up the stairs, that unsettling ascent that led to a platform dizzying to anyone with a mild fear of heights. (It is a matter of debate whether my fear of heights in mild or not.) And I recall the walk back down the stairs after failing to summon the courage to go down the slide. Embarrassing or not, it was better to me than experiencing that drop.
Standing at the end of one year, admittedly a rough one, and looking out onto another, feels a little bit like standing at the top of the Kamikaze. The climb to this point has been rough on the heart, mind, and body. We’d like to trust that the year to come will give us some joy rather than just more frayed nerves. We aren’t sure what to expect.
One thing that’s certain is that turning around and climbing back down is not an option. Time will move forward and carry us along with it. What will the ride be like?
If I had braved the Kamikaze, I could have been assured that about three seconds after pushing off, I’d be at the bottom, safely slowing down on my way to the long, flat end of the slide. Looking out at the New Year, the safe end point is not in sight: we don’t know when our ordinary griefs and stresses, let alone the pandemic, will peter out and let us walk again on stable ground. We might feel a little bit frozen, eager to end 2021 but having no guarantee of a better 2022.
But for those of us who are Christians, who have come to know that, in Jesus, God is always with us (Matt. 1:23, 28:20), we have the assurance of never being alone. The one who is with us, according to Psalm 90—that great prayer about time, on both the grand scale and the daily minutiae—has “been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains”—or the Kamikaze—“were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting”—and from one wretched year to the next uncertain one—“you are God” (Psalm 90:1-2).
I don’t know what’s coming, but like a downhill slide, it can’t be stopped. If I knew what was coming, I might be able to breathe easier, or I might be even more fearful. But the Lord reminds us again and again not to fear, for he is with us; “do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you” (Isa. 41:10).
Although nobody could strengthen me quite enough to ride the Kamikaze, I am sure that the Lord’s strength will carry us into 2022 without fear, trusting that whatever may come, good or bad, he will be merciful and present. As I peer over the edge to the year to come, I remember too that Jesus was raised from the hopelessness of death, an event that split time in two. Bearing that in mind, I find a little stirring not only of hope for what’s ahead, but maybe a bit of joy as well.