Saturday, August 15, 2015

Leaping Out in Faith, Or, I've Been Climbing So Much Lately

I admit it, Amanda and I have totally drank the Kool-aid in regard to rock climbing.

I'm sure that many of you have seen the photos we've been posting on Facebook and some of you have even come climbing with us (we have an open invitation to anyone who wants to come climb... we still have guest passes at the Y and we can probably finagle something with our REI membership if you want to come along for that).

I've been saying that I like climbing so much because it's like a giant puzzle that I can only solve by moving my body through it... it engages me on so many levels. I need to use my critical thinking to see the steps of the puzzle, I need to engage my physicality to actually climb the wall, and I'm also engaged as a part of community; if you want to climb with a top rope or a lead, you need to have someone belaying for you at the bottom. Which also means that every so often you, yourself need to belay for someone else. In this way, everyone gets support from others.

Well, I mean, you also get support from your community because climbers celebrate anytime someone tops out on the wall or solves a particularly hard problem. But this post is about the line that supports us, that binds, that keeps us from going splat on the floor. It's a faithful line that we walk, er, hang on... And there's a particular knot that holds the whole thing together.

The picture to the right is a bracelet that I learned how tie with knots that are used in climbing (I know, chugging the Kool-aid, I know). That top knot is known as a double fisherman's knot or a double overhand knot. It really just ties the tail of your line onto itself so it doesn't get caught on anything. The bottom knot is a double figure-8. It creates a loop so that you can actually tie your harness onto the line (when it includes a follow-through with the tail end). Some climbers have been known to use a bowline on a bight, but the double figure-8 is the more universal knot, both in popularity and versatility. There is also something that approaches mysticism around that double figure-8.

The lore around the double figure-8 is that it has never been known to fail when it is tied properly with a follow-through. Which is good, since you are literally hanging your life on that knot. In cases when there has been an equipment malfunction that causes a line failure (as opposed to an improperly tied knot) and injury to a climber, it has never been documented that the knot itself failed. Sometime you've got a faulty line because it was worn out or damaged in an unnoticed way, so the line breaks above or below the knot. But the knot itself has not been known to break (and now that I've published that, I'm sure I will get some comments and emails saying that I'm spreading misinformation and falsehoods).

Anyway, I've been taken in by some of this lore and mysticism (and I've also done some research to back up the stories with facts). And I've observed that tying onto a line and climbing up a wall requires you to have an inherent faith in your safety equipment. Yes, there is a huge amount of testing that is done with this equipment and I'm grateful for it, but if you're going to go up a wall and push your abilities, you need to believe the research and have faith that the equipment will catch you when you fall.

And thus I find climbing to be another spiritual exercise. Just as I see life itself as an exercise in striving to be Christ-like and then stepping out in faith, I see climbing as a wonderful microcosm of events and decisions that you only have limited control over. You can practice and practice and practice, but if you want to accomplish something big, at some point you're going to have to leap for a handhold overhead and believe that you can make it. Every time I make a decision to step out in faith, I have to believe that I am inspired by Christ's example and presence in my life.

And when I fall, when I miss the handhold or I slip, I fall to the end of the rope and it catches me. Christ is able to catch us when we fall. That doesn't mean the fall is painless; I've had a few falls near to the floor when I hit the end of the rope, hard, and get suspended 3 inches off the floor... that really, really hurts. But then all of my support helps me to get back on the wall and try it again.

I didn't expect to be so taken in by a sport that teaches me so much about my life of faith. But I'm happy that it has happened.

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Are there any sports or activities that help you understand your life of faith? Are you one of those climbers that has a mysticism about the equipment we use? Please start the conversation in the comments below, or start a conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

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