I grew up near Waco, Texas and have fond childhood memories of family picnics at Cameron Park. I was ten years old when I first visited Lover’s Leap, a site high atop the limestone cliffs that overlook the Brazos River. In my youth I could throw a rock across the river striking the trees on the other side. It was here, as a junior at Baylor that I first dated the girl that would become my wife. And it was in this park that I proposed to her 53 years ago.
In 1912 Decca Lamar West published the romantic story of Wah-Wah-Tee and her Apache Indian Brave who leaped from this precipice to their death rather than live their lives separated by tribal hostilities. The story has been passed down countless times by generations.
In Hannibal, Missouri, another majestic site that overlooks the Mississippi claims a similar story. According to a tradition dating to 1840 an Indian princess and an Indian brave from opposing tribes fell deeply in love. Hunted by the maiden’s tribe, they climbed to this pinnacle, embraced each other and leaped to their death.
When I lived in Minnesota, I became familiar with Maiden Rock, a high bluff overlooking Lake Pepin, where, by one legend, a beautiful young Indian Maiden, the daughter of Chief Red Wing, leaped to her death after her Dakota Sioux tribe killed the Chippewa brave whom she loved.
There are many Lovers Leaps across the country. You can find them in Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Connecticut, Virginia and California. Mark Twin noted, “There are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped.”
Why are there so many legends? Why are they so similar?
I suppose it is because we all know that love is a leap. We cannot truly love someone without taking a chance, leaping into the unknown, making a commitment, risking everything. It is the leap that makes life worthwhile. It was a leap for me, and certainly for my wife, 53 years ago when she was 19 and I was 22. I look back now, and it was the best jump of my life.
This Christmas we celebrate God’s leap of love for us. It was love that caused God to send His son, born as a babe in Bethlehem, destined to die on a cross outside Jerusalem. He made the leap, risking everything in order to rescue us. This is what the Bible means when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).