I just learned a new word. The word is “tapper” and I heard it in an interview of an athlete at the Paralympics in Japan. In the interview, a blind relay swimmer spoke about his tapper. A “tapper” is the person stationed at the end of a swimming lane whose job it is to reach out with a pole and tap the blind swimmer to notify him or her when they are at the wall and need to either turn around for the next lap or end the race. The blind swimmer cannot know exactly where the wall is, so this role is critical both for maintaining the speed and momentum necessary for the race as well as the basic safety of the swimmer.
In a race every second counts so the tapper needs to truly know the swimmer and the swimmer’s speed and style. The best interest of the swimmer must be foremost in the tapper’s mind and focus throughout the race. This type of knowledge and attention takes training, dedication, practice and familiarity on the part of both the swimmer and the tapper. The tapper’s job is to be the eyes for the swimmer and to look out for him or her. It is a critical role.
St. Paul used the image of the athlete running the race to speak of the life of Christian discipleship. I think that the Apostle to the Gentiles would find the role of the tapper to be another apt metaphor for the life of the Christian disciple. Yes, as Christians, we are called to certainly run our particular race of faith and we are called to look out for one another. In fact, looking out for others, is an important and critical aspect of running our own individual race of faith. The two are connected.
The Christian must be concerned for the welfare of the other – whether that welfare be spiritual, physical, emotional or material. We look out for the other because we realize that just as we run the race we also run the race together and we help one another along. The Christian disciple cannot be selfish in his or her approach to the race of faith.
Christians are to be tappers for others. This is a critical role in the life of every follower of Christ.
The most effective tapper knows when to “tap” the swimmer at the best possible instant to capitalize on the speed and momentum of the swimmer. We encourage one another, we support one another, we uphold one another in order to push one another along to keep running (or swimming) the race in the best way possible. But, we must also keep discerning and learning when is the best possible time to tap the other. Timing is important and knowledge of timing comes only with practice, perseverance, reflection, prayer, humility, love for the other and familiarity with the other. All of these factors go into good timing and timing is key in the race.
The tapper also “taps” the swimmer to caution that the wall is near in order to protect the swimmer against serious injury. We caution one another against sin and error, we challenge one another to the life of virtue, we pray God’s protection for one another and caution against despair. Correct timing is also of upmost importance here because just as the tapper does not want the swimmer to slam into the wall, so the Christian does not want another person to enter into serious harm (spiritual, physical, emotional) but the warning must be given in sincere concern and love for the other to truly be effective. The most effective tapper truly knows his or her swimmer and this knowledge can only come through an authentic concern and charity for the other. Both timing and an authenticity of care are key when giving a tap of warning.
We live in precarious and confusing times. There are many things that seek to distract and turn the Christian away from the race of faith as well as dividing us from one another. A temptation in the face of all of this is to just focus on one’s own race and let others worry about their races. But this is not the call of the gospel nor the witness of Christ. Just as we run the race we must also be concerned for one another. We run and we swim the race together.
As Christians, we must also be tappers.