When Jan and I lived in Berlin, Germany we loved walking in the city parks. The park system in Berlin was unlike any I had ever seen. These parks were not the traditional square piece of land with grass and a few trees – the parks in Berlin ran through most of the city. Berlin has more land dedicated to parks than most cities in the world.
One of our favorite walks was to leave our apartment on Am Pfarracker Strasse and walk east to the Otto Lilienthal Memorial. This was a beautiful park with a reflecting pool and a small man-made hill. Jan and I would use the stairs leading to the top of the hill as a workout. The hill was only about 50 feet tall. The hill was named " Fliegeberg" (Mount Flight).
Atop the hill is a memorial to Otto Lilienthal. He was called, "The Glider King". Otto was a pioneer of manned flight who would leap off the small hill he constructed to test his gliders. Otto made over 2,000 flights. Many of these flights were from that small hill in the park bearing his name. Otto finally died in a glider crash in 1896 and in his 2,000 plus flights logged a total of 5 hours of flight. The math shows these 2,000 flights were each only a few seconds in duration.
As I think of Otto he gives me an example of someone who had a dream, but needed to build a hill to jump from in order to make his dream a reality. The landscape in Berlin surrounding Otto’s memorial is flat. The hill is an oddity – like a Noah’s Ark in a culture without rain or floods. Otto saw something in a flightless world that required creating a platform from which his dream could be launched.
Faith is something that requires us to construct a place where we will take a leap. Moses led Israel into an opened sea with walls of water on both sides of his dry path. The priests of Israel stepped out over the waters of the Jordan at flood stage before the waters actually parted. Peter told the beggar that he had no money to give him, but stand up and be healed. Paul shook off a serpent and lived to tell the tale. The Word of God is filled with people who walked by faith. Many of them did not arrive at these places of faith without some season of preparation before they acted.
The exercise of our faith may require, like Otto Lilienthal, that we haul wheelbarrow loads of dirt into a field of obedience and begin building a mountain to jump from. Imagine what Otto’s neighbors thought? At that time no one believed a human could fly. There is a preparation in our lives that makes us ready to take a leap of faith. While we build our hill, God builds us.
This preparation for flight may require a season of hauling dirt in a sweaty and gritty form of daily obedience until the right circumstances present themselves – until our mound of obedience is tall enough to sustain our leap of faith.
I can remember those many times that I would walk up the Otto Lilienthal Memorial steps and think about his accomplishments. My thoughts were always on the event of his flight and not the many months it took him to add dirt to a flat field to build his hill of flight.
There are acts of faith waiting for our leap of faith that are on the other side of what can be weeks, months, or even years of faithfully hauling spiritual dirt in preparation for flight. Without the hill we would have no launching point for our faith.
I can only imagine what Otto felt that first time he jumped off his hill. He must have felt all the dirt hauling was worth it. In fact, I’m sure the hill he built, and all the sweat and struggle he endured, was not first and foremost on his mind the first time he broke the bonds of earth and flew like a bird.