To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist. (Cardinal Emmanuel Célestin Suhard)
Alex Honnold, 32, began climbing when he was 11 years old and is one of the world’s top free soloers, as well as the only person to have free-soloed the infamous El Capitan in Yosemite. Free soloing is a type of rock climbing that does not use ropes, harnesses, or protective gear during ascents. In the event of a fall, the free soloist would meet certain death. When interviewed by National Geographic, Honnold dismissed the accusations that he was unafraid of death.
A lot of people say I don’t feel fear, or that I don’t fear death, but that’s just not true! I have the same healthy hope of survival as everybody else. I don’t want to die. At least not yet. I think I just have more of an acceptance that I will die at some point. I understand that, but I don’t want to baby myself along the way. I want to live in a certain way, which requires taking a higher degree of risk, and that’s acceptable to me.
Free-soloing looks like a reckless death-wish to those unfamiliar with it, the sport of adrenaline seekers. Honnold refutes this as well.
“A lot of people assume that I must be an adrenaline junkie,” he says, “but climbing is actually very low adrenaline, because it is very slow. Climbing is the opposite of gravity sports, like surfing or snowboarding. Those are adrenaline sports because once you step off the edge, it all just happens. With climbing, you have to deliberately move inch by inch up this huge wall.
There is no room for error in free-soloing. One must be exacting and confident in their abilities, but also sober and discerning in their limits.
For the most part, if something seems really scary I just don’t do it. I’m under no obligation. I do this strictly for my own satisfaction. If I’m afraid, I either put in more time preparing or I just don’t do it. I’ve done routes where I’ve climbed 200 feet off the ground and just been, like, what am I doing? I then just climbed back down and went home. Discretion is the better part of valor. Some days are just not your day. That’s the big thing with free soloing: when to call it.
A Coptic Monk
Fr. Lazarus El-Anthony is a Coptic monk who lives in solitude on Mount Colzim (the mountain of St. Anthony’s Cave in Egypt). He worked as a university lecturer of literature and Philosophy in Australia and spent forty years of his life as an atheist deriving his philosophy from Marxism. When his mother died of cancer, he left his life and set out on a quest to find God and inner-freedom.
“You can never come as close to God when you are surrounded with what Freud called ‘auxiliary constructions.’” he said in a rare interview, “You can never come as close to God when you are in the midst of many supporting things as you can when you are naked, when you are alone.”
Fr. Lazarus is a ‘free-soloer’ in the world of faith, following in the ancient traditions of those who fled to the desert in the early years of Christianity to focus more intensely on following Christ.
“I am an exile from my country. I don’t speak my mother tongue with anybody. I don’t have my family with me. All the things which help to make me a strong monk are…losses. This makes me, in one sense, blessed. But in another sense, I am utterly alone.”
Such deliberate cutting-off of opportunities for temptation in the life of an anchorite is a high-stakes game:
“If I want to talk to someone, to whom can I talk? I have no language to talk to anybody. There is nobody here who has my past. There is nobody here who thinks my thoughts. If I lose my contact with Christ for one minute, there is no one to come to help me. So this struggle I must fight every day, to keep myself balanced on Christ….balanced on the Lord.”
The Ladder of Divine Ascent was written by St. John Climacus at the turn of the 7th century. Pictorially represented in iconography by a thirty-rung ladder to Heaven, the journey upwards is rife with obstacles of sin, as demons attempt to pick off those on the ascent to Christ with bows and arrows; it is those who persevere to the end who are saved (Mt 24:13). Although the work was originally composed for anchorites and monks, I find it particularly applicable to those in various states of life–single or married, vowed religious or not. For the Christian following Christ, sin is an obstacle to reaching our ultimate destination, and to forget our ultimate purpose is to expose ourselves to misstep.
But most of us live in a somewhat, shall we say, “padded” existence. We rely on our own power and ways of reasoning, surrounded by friends and family, the distractions of technology, the comforts of modern living, with just enough faith to qualify us as Christians by way of culture or church membership.
But I’d like to you to consider a question: when was the last time you risked something for God, a time in which without Him, you would have no recourse?
Risking something for God can be a lot like free-soloing a sheer face (with some qualifications).
Trust in our Own Abilities is Folly
For starters, to trust in our own abilities and power is folly, for it is only by faith and grace that we are able to accomplish anything, as “our hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven and earth” (Ps 124:8). When Abraham believed the Lord (who promised to make his offspring more numerous than the stars in the sky), it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). As Christians, we live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Pride–the belief that we are doing such things under our own power–is a mighty sin which casts down even those in the upper echelons of divine ascent. And so we must always be on guard, moment by moment, not in a state of fearful anxiety, but with a focus that keeps our eyes on Christ. Otherwise, we may find ourselves two thousand feet in the air and unable to find a hand-hold.
Christ Can Do The Impossible
Secondly, we should never forget that Christ is able to do the impossible. He raised the dead, cured the sick, and multiplied the loaves and fishes. Peter walked on water, and the disciples cast out demons in his name. Do you think Christ does not/ cannot do those things today? Our lack of faith is what hinders such things from happening. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20). He has given us everything we need to work miracles in his name.
Believe What is Written
Finally, believe what is written: there is no place for tepidity of lukewarmness in the Christian life. You are either hot or cold, or else risk being vomited from the mouth of God (Rev 3:16). This does not mean being reckless or brash, but living with conviction and confidence in the power of God to do the miraculous. Do you need a miracle? Pray for one, holding nothing back. Do you need a sign? Ask for one, confident that our Father does not give stones to those who ask for bread (Mt 7:9). Do you want to be a witness? Cut the rope, and step out in faith and obedience, offering your personal preferences, your desires, even your very life, for the sake of Him who promises many mansions in the Kingdom, rooms he prepares for us.
Every time I have stepped out in sincere faith and obedience, trusting in the Lord to provide or come through when I needed Him, He always did. And when it seemed that He didn’t, it was only because He had something better in mind. This is the assurance of faith that we can never forget. Just as the Israelites set up memorials to remember their crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 4), so to should we remember those times when God has come through for us when we put our faith in Him in a spirit of complete dependency. In one sense, you have nothing to lose when you regard everything in the world as dross. In another sense, you have everything to lose…but the Lord promises to repay a hundred-fold what we give up in this life for the sake of the Kingdom (Mk 10:29). The question then becomes: do we believe Him?
The next time you have the opportunity, take a risk for the Lord and hold nothing back. Say “anything” to God–”Lord, I will do anything, ANYTHING you ask.” It’s a dangerous and powerful prayer of abandonment, but trust me, it can move mountains. The world does not gain anything by you playing it safe. It needs your faith. It needs your witness. It needs Christ…and you are the one called to be his hands and feet.
Put your chips down. Bet the house. Hold nothing back. And be amazed at the mighty works God is able to do by those who trust in Him.