You may or may not know that when I started undergraduate school I was a music and physics double major. During my first semester I decided that this would prevent me from doing well in either one, so I picked music and let physics go. But there’s a reason I was a physics major for that semester. I enjoyed it.
My favorite part of physics was kinematics, the study of motion. I may be the only one in my high school class that enjoyed drawing free body diagrams and actually did some of that on my own for fun. Listen, you’ve always known there was something not quite right about me anyway. A free body diagram is a way to isolate and consider all the forces that are acting on an object. So if I were to draw a diagram for my computer on the table, there would be the force of gravity pulling down and the normal force pushing back up.
All the forces acting on an object can be combined mathematically. In the laptop example, the combination of forces is zero (gravity down and normal back up are equal), so my laptop will stay right where it is. If the forces do not offset each other, the resulting force will cause the object to begin to move (assuming it is enough to overcome inertia and static friction forces, of course).
When times get hard—when we feel like the things within us that keep us upright are failing because they can no longer sustain the weight we carry, we often look for a rock to lean on. A rock is a good choice in this case because we are able to transfer the weight of our load to the rock, which essentially holds it up for us—the weight of the load is transferred through our body to the rock. A rock, being large and heavy, can easily support the weight of our burden and even some of our own weight.
Most of us can identify people in our lives that are our “rocks.” They are the ones who are always willing to carry the loads too big for us to bear on our own. They are always there, solid, never yielding to whatever weight we bring. And they will stay as long as we need them. The free body diagram of our soul is in balance when we have our “rocks” to lean on.
But people are not rocks. People are not immovable objects capable of supplying a balancing force equal to any force we apply to them. They carry their own burdens, and they struggle under the weight of their own experiences. And like us they’re looking for someone to help shoulder their burden.
No, when we lean on each other for support, we are not leaning on rocks. We are leaning people who are leaning back on us. They don’t support our burdens, and we don’t support theirs. Instead, the weight we carry balances with the weight they are carrying. The free body diagram reveals equal and opposing forces, so we don’t fall. It is the burdens we bear that allow us to bear the burdens of others.
At its best, that is the church: a collection of people who at once care enough and trust enough to lean into the loads of others and balance them. They are aware of the needs of the others. They willingly seek to share the pain and suffering. At the same time they trust that the people around them will lean back, buttressing them in their own need. As a result, the body of Christ, the Church, stands unmovable in the face of any and all weight we bring to it. Oddly enough, it is precisely the weight we bring that makes it unmovable.
In that sense, God is indeed a rock, and a very real shelter in a time of storm. Because putting our faith in God means leaning into the body, knowing all the while that someone else is leaning back.