Cramer uses Web’s sailplane as the perfect metaphor for his life. Flying in it gives him the illusion that he is in control, above everything else, master of his fate and of all he surveys. Through one nearly tragic flight, Web discovers that he is subject to the will of God and that his vain pride in his mastery of his environment will come up short in the end. In contrast, Cramer uses the accident that brings Harley to Sutter’s Cross to symbolize the path forward. Drunk and racing on mountain roads at night to flee a tragic past, Harley drives his motorcycle over a precipice and falls into the river. Falling through space, he has no control of his motorcycle or his body. Later, spending his time in the mountain recesses and on Joshua’s Knee, reading the Bible left behind by Agnes’s son, who died in Vietnam, Harley realizes that he has never had any control and for him to reach any fruition in his life, he must place it in God’s hands. The plunge into the river serves as a kind of baptism; afterward, he is reborn.
The novel is also about acceptance. Harley does not fit Orde Wingo’s vision of what a Christian should be. Therefore, despite Harley’s obvious eagerness to discuss the Bible and to become part of the church community, Orde makes it clear that he does not welcome Harley. In a few short meetings, Harley is able to help Marcus see the power of prayer and surrendering his will to God’s; Jake, too, learns about strength and faith in God from Harley. Even Web Holcombe is eventually touched to the core by Harley’s ultimate, Christ-like sacrifice; yet, Orde, devout churchgoer, is not a participant in the spiritual growth sparked by Harley’s appearance.