by Zach Smith
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
– Matthew 7:13-14
There is a church deep in the mountains of West Virginia that is long and narrow beside a deep gorge. The church is run down with whitewashed wooden shingles on the sides. On the right side of the wall that faces the country road, is a cross and crown of thorns, with “Matthew 7:13-14” written below the right arm of the cross. To the left of the cross is a single door, two feet wide, the only passageway both in and out of the church. Behind that door is something spectacular.
It is a church that few will ever find, on a thinly traveled branch of a back road in a remote region of a remote state. They do not advertise their existence, they are connected to no other church, and their method of staying on the narrow path is followed by no other church in quite the same way.
The church is two stories, taller than it is wide, without a second floor. A taut wire, an inch in diameter stretches from wall to wall, ten feet above the pews, with a second shorter wire intersecting it above the altar.
The door opens for Sunday service, and the congregation files in. The church is open to everyone, but few people come, less and less every year.
The pastor, Rock Valance, is young, well built and agile. He walks to the altar in a shirt and tie and prayer shawl.
“Are you ready to feel the Lord today?”
The congregation answers with a sound consisting of amens, hallelujahs, yes lords, praise the lords, and a variety of replies in no discernible language, known within their culture as “tongues.”
There are few people in the pews, maybe two dozen, yet they fill every corner of the church with their presence.
“Are you ready for some church today?” asked the pastor in a louder voice this time.
They reply again with their cacophonous consent.
“Who has strayed from the narrow path this week?”
“Oh that’s not good, that’s not good. Lying in church is no good, you know that, and so does God, and God knows you strayed from the narrow path.”
The pastor’s voice changes, now screaming and gasping for breath at the end of each sentence break, with an unusual cadence.
Some men and women who had been sitting near the altar, stand up and begin to play a variety of instruments, an electric guitar, a Hammond organ, a Jew’s harp; while others in the pews pull out cymbals, tambourines, bongos, and together the congregation sets a jumpy bluesy rhythm for the pastor to preach over.
“We have all strayed from the narrow path this week, even I. The path to destruction is a broad one says the lord, yes he does. The narrow path runs right through the middle of the road to hell. Yes, it does. Stray an inch and you’ll fall if you don’t catch your balance. Now catch your balance.”
The congregation admits to a variety of sins, some mumble, some yell. One woman speaks through tears and quakes so violently that her transgressions, whatever they might have been, are illegible. Though they all spoke at once in a cacophony that fills the church from floor to ceiling, Pastor Rock hears and knows all.
The pastor dances to the side of the church jumping in time to the music with his eyes closed as though in a trance. He climbs a ladder which leads to the wire above. He flips himself onto the wire and stands there with such relaxed ease it seems anyone else could do it.
When he reaches the intersection of the wire cross, he continues with his sermon.
“I know what they say, I know, the ones who don’t believe, and the ones who don’t understand, they say he can’t be doing what he’s doing. They can’t believe the miracle before their own eyes. We all know what they say. But for once they’re right. Oh yes, brothers and sisters, they are right. Because I am not the one on the wire, I am not the one walking the tightrope. It is Jesus who shows us the narrow path, it is Jesus who walks through me on the wire.”
The congregation lets out their agreement, in varied forms. Those who said amen before, say hallelujah, those who said hallelujah reply in tongues. Most leave the pews and dance in the aisle and around the altar. The pastor walks above them on the wire.
“I know what the lost ones are saying, yes I do, they are saying ‘Pastor Rock is a tightrope walker’ but they’re wrong, I am not on the wire alone, because when you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior you never walk alone.”
He walks toward the back of the church while continuing his sermon.
“Brothers and sisters, I have heard your sins. You who struck your wife, you who took a drink, you who lost a hundred dollar bill to the turn of a card, you who took that same hundred dollar bill.”
He speaks to no one in particular, he looks at no one to point out that he knows their sins. They know their sins, and according to Pastor Rock, so does God, and in this church, that is all that matters.
“Yes, brothers and sisters I’ve heard your sins. You who’ve lain with a man to whom you were not married. You who used the lord’s name in vain when you stubbed your toe on the living room chair. You who cursed that car with a New York license plate when they cut you off on your way to the general store. I know, I know, believe me I know how tempting it is to curse our northern brethren. The devil is full of temptation, but we must cast those temptations out, and turn our cheeks to them, as Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert.”
He reaches the back wall of the church, above the narrow door, and on a shelf, a miniature altar, are three leather balls, filled with sand, each with a label: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He picks the three balls up and begins to juggle them while walking the tightrope back to the center of the church, continuing with his sermon.
“I was saved, brothers and sisters, I was saved. I was full of fear and walking alone on a bridge. A wide bridge that I had no business being on or falling off, but I was scared of heights and scared to fall. And I was driven to the edge of that bridge, and I fell. Yes I did, I had fallen, you have to fall to be saved. And when I hit the ground I broke every bone in my body. And people came to me, and they called an ambulance, and they made me as comfortable as they could, while we waited. They saw, as I did, every bone in my body heal and repair itself. They witnessed that miracle before their very eyes. And many of them did not believe it. I knew then that the righteous path was a narrow one, so with Jesus, I am standing on that narrow path now.”
The congregation shows their approval of his story.
Pastor Rock puts the three juggling balls back on their shelf.
“Who among you will join me on the narrow path?”
One man, standing near the altar, puts his guitar down and picks up the microphone.
“I will join you Pastor Rock,” he yells into the microphone.
This man has a very different body type then the pastor. He is portly and struggled to get through the narrow door before the service started. He begins to speak in a blend of singing and screaming that doesn’t match the rhythm of the song they are playing.
“I feel the strength of God in me, Jesus is my balance, he will guide me on the narrow path, he will carry me on the wire.”
The congregation mills and dances about, stomping their feet in time to the rhythm that they themselves are setting with their drums and cymbals and tambourines.
He climbs the ladder to the wire. His strength is not great, his footing is not sure, he has never walked the wire before but with the power of God in him, he believes he can do anything. He puts one foot in front of the other and slowly walks to the intersection of the wire cross.
The congregation looking upward, dancing and stomping on the ground, raise their arms praising the miracle they are witnessing.
“Brother Rollie, are you standing on my wire?” barks Pastor Rock.
“No, I am not.”
“But you are standing right there, in front of me.”
“It is not I that stands on the wire, it is Jesus working through me to keep me on the narrow path.”
The congregants’ cheer below.
“Brother Rollie, will you stay on the narrow path?”
“I will,” he yells back.
“Are you sure?”
“With God’s help, I will stay on the path.”
“Brother Rollie, will you follow me to Life?”
Rollie begins to cry. He genuflects onto the wire but does not lose his balance.
“Yes, I will follow you to Life.”
“Will Jesus carry you there?”
“Yes, he will.”
“Will he carry you there now?”
“Yes, he will.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure.”
“Then follow me.”
Brother Rollie returns to his feet. His eyes so wet with tears that he can not see, but his feet know the way, and he follows Pastor Rock to the wire, above the altar.
There is one other door in the church, narrow and shallow, half a door really, above the altar. Pastor Rock opens the door to reveal the path to Life. Another wire, much longer and more dangerous than the one in the church, leads across the deep gorge to a platform.
They slide through the door. Pastor Rock does not need to touch the frame. . . . Brother Rollie less so, he grips onto the frame like a drowning man grasping onto a piece of driftwood.
Pastor Rock feels Rollie not following, and turns around.
“Brother Rollie, are you sure you can do this?”
“No,” says Brother Rollie. “I can’t, not alone, but Jesus will help me.”
“Are you sure Jesus wants you to do this today?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You can turn back now,” says Pastor Rock. “If God wants to you walk the path another day.”
“I can walk the path today,” says Rollie. “God wants me to walk it now. If God wills it I shall not disobey.”
Rollie lets go of the door frame and leaves the church to follow on the narrow path to Life.
Pastor Rock walks with his hands in his pockets, backward, watching the lord carry Brother Rollie across the wire.
“Life” is a platform and small garden across the gorge, two hundred feet away by wire, twenty miles by road, and a world away by spirit.
The congregation leaves the church and walks around to watch Pastor Rock and Brother Rollie cross the gorge to Life.
“Will you make it to Life?” asks the pastor.
“Yes I will,” says Rollie.
“Will you brag about how deep the gorge you walked across was?”
“No, I will not.”
“Will you convince other people to walk across the gorge?”
“No I will not, only God can convince them to do that.”
“And will you show them the narrow path.”
“I will show them the narrow path by living it daily,” says Rollie.
He takes one more step and freezes, halfway across the gorge. He opens his eyes and looks down at the creek, hundreds of feet below.
And he is still there on that wire, full of faith and fear, and whether or not he makes it to the other side, depends entirely on what you believe.
Zach Smith lives in the suburban Philadelphia area and has been writing for close to twenty years, focusing largely on short fiction. His works have previously appeared in: The Short Humour Site, the God’s and Services anthology, the Ginger Collect, and Crack the Spine, among many other publications.