Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Summer Adventure, Part II

As I mentioned before, I’m not one of those people who thrives on heights. I wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect of dangling 180 feet in the air. And I expected to come out on the other side of my adventures a stronger, braver, less-terrified-of-heights person than before.

But the thing about adventures is that they aren’t always what one expects.

Early in the morning, we set out with our guides, a lot of water, and climbing gear. We spent the morning on

 Two things surprised me about climbing.

1) It is a lot harder to hold on to a sheer rock wall than I had expected.

2) I barely had the mental capacity to be distracted by the height, because I was busy exhausting every ounce of energy I had on my search for hand- and foot-holds as I dragged myself upwards.

After a quick break for lunch, we set out once again. This time, we were going down.

As I waited for those ahead of me to descend the rope, I peered over the edge of the cliff. It was......a long way down.

The most psychologically daunting part about rappelling came, for me, when I discovered that, in order to begin my descent, I had to slowly lean out – backwards- over the cliff while hanging onto the rope.

Everything in me that was practical and rational defied this. Forward motion? Fine. Upwards motion? Ok. But why, I wondered, as I struggled to place my feet on the edge of the cliff, would any sane intelligent person voluntarily walk backwards into the air?

But somehow I managed, with the prodding of our guides, to get over the cliff. And then, it was all downhill, figuratively as well as literally. Halfway down, dangling 90 feet in the air, I paused for a minute to take in the stunning view. Red cliffs, dotted with green growth spread out in every direction. A creek trickled through the canyon below me.

It was then that the realization struck me that I had entrusted my life to a piece of fiber only half-an-inch thick. Panic struck me for just a brief second as I realized the hugeness of the empty space around me. But there was no turning back now. I certainly couldn’t climb back up the rope. And so I took a deep breath and continued my descent.

Sometimes I feel as if I wade through life waiting for epic moments, flashes of insight, clarifying epiphanies. I secretly envy those people who talk about the single unifying moments that come into their lives in which they conquer their greatest fear, or realize their deepest dream, or have some equally defining experience.

I think maybe I was expecting that to happen in Utah last week. But, if I’m honest with myself, I certainly can’t claim anything I ventured came close to one of those experiences. The surprising thing about my recent trek wasn’t that I had some moment of insight or felt more invincible or stronger or braver than I ever have before.

In fact, as I hugged towering red cliffs and dangled off the rock face, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and strength everywhere around me. I was overpowered by how tiny and insignificant I and my world and problems and victories seemed next to the vastness of the cliffs and sky and desert around me.

In our world of ease and comfort and cell-phones and microwaves, it’s easy to forget how very tiny we are and how very vast the universe is. It’s easy to forget how great God is when our world is small and safe and soft.

Our souls need space and height and air and adventures and challenge. But maybe we need those things not to give ourselves an additional ego-boost or to remind ourselves of how great or invincible or cool or strong we are, but to keep us humble. Maybe we need those "Bucket List" moments not to feel big, but to feel small.

And so perhaps our souls desperately need to leave our places of comfort and security and cling to something bigger and vaster and stronger than ourselves not to remind us of our strength, but to remind us of our need.

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