Saturday, November 12, 2011

Carnival at Niagara

So, most of you know that I “had” to go to Niagara Falls to take my NARM test this week for midwifery certification. Thanks to some flight credit earned on an earlier trip for taking a delayed flight, plus a friend who let me stay with her and use her car, I got off really easy.

So sure enough, the falls were as powerful and majestic as I remembered when I first saw them 20 years ago. But what I had managed to miss on the previous trip, were the attractions that were built up around the falls. Not just hotels and restaurants and welcome centers with information, but arcade centers, wax museums and haunted houses.

I found the contrast irreconcilable. The fresh natural beauty of the falls, mist floating several stories in the air, the roar of the water heard from blocks away, right next to… a glow in the dark indoor miniature golf course?


As I walked around and enjoyed the day before my test, I had to walk down the carnival street to and from my hotel and the testing site. I kept being drawn to the falls, and away from the schmaltz. I really couldn’t see the appeal. I was in no way tempted to tour the Criminals Hall of Fame Wax Museum as I headed for another view of one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.

I wondered how they stayed in business. But deep down, I knew. Our culture tells us constantly we have to “do” something- we can’t simply sit or stroll and soak in something beautiful for long. Or enjoy the company of family and friends as we walk. We get restless. We need activity, games, lights, competition, sports, media, and electronics. We need enhancements. In other words, a carnival.


Sometimes we Christians in this culture can find ourselves “going carnival” too. Living our lives in God’s awesome presence next to our friends and family isn’t enough. Like the carnival street next to Niagara Falls, we feel the need to add activities, programs, events, advertising, conferences, concerts and media to what was originally a simple yet powerful choice of faith. 

None of these are intrinsically wrong, but some people may be so distracted by the hype that they never get down to the water front, to see what got us all to this location in the first place. Or else we are so busy running and maintaining the sideshow that we don’t have time to fully appreciate the real attraction ourselves, or keep that the main focus.

Maybe we would all do well to get off the Giant Niagara Sky Wheel and sit and gaze at Niagara Falls itself for a while. I know, we think we have to “do” something. “Hey everybody, step right up, see the great wonder of the world, right here, over this way!” Then we feel the need to narrate it. “Just breathe it in, just soak in the beauty, just lift up your hands and feel the mist!”

But maybe not. Maybe Niagara Falls is powerful enough and real enough to draw and hold people without our carnival. Maybe the fact that we simply go there ourselves and invite others come along to enjoy it with us for what it is, is more than enough.
It might be true of our faith as well.

Maybe our relationship with God could be more simple too. He always was more into people sitting at his feet and listening to him, than the busy activities of cleaning the house and making the dinner and sending out the invitations and putting pressure on people to get busy and help.

Maybe that’s kind of like building and running carnival in His throne room.

Maybe. Just something to think about.