2017-08_LT-ToTheHeights

Exercise and Sports/Healthy Body/My Life

To the Heights: Finding God in Nature

Not too long ago, the Church celebrated the Feast of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young Italian man who lived in the early 20th century. Frassati is well known for his relatable youthfulness (he died at just 24 years old), his selfless acts of charity, and his adventurous spirit.

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“Verso l’alto” has become Frassati’s motto of sorts, a phrase he wrote on a photo of himself climbing a mountain, meaning “to the heights.” This motto encapsulates Frassati’s approach to life, whether it was weekend climbing trips with his friends or his daily attempts to reach the heights of the heavenly Kingdom through his service to the poor and ill.

Frassati is the patron of my university’s Catholic center, and his intercession has worked marvels in getting students outdoors and seeking the heights. Little by little, following his example, I’ve learned to find God in the glory of His creation. I think Frassati and his adventurous spirit are onto something here: climbing, the mountains, outdoor explorations… I’ll bet that’s a sure way to the heights of God’s love.

JPII Agrees

St. John Paul II, a fellow outdoorsmen and fan of Frassati, once spoke to the Italian Alpine climbing club with these words:

“Have special concern for the young, to train them to follow the type of life that the mountains demand of their devotes. It requires rigorous virtues in those who practice it: strict discipline and self-control, prudence, a spirit of sacrifice and dedication, care and solidarity for others…

“Help your members also to be contemplatives, to enjoy ever more deeply in their mind the message of creation. In contact with the beauties of the mountains, in the face of the spectacular grandeur of the peaks, the fields of snow and the immense landscapes, man enters into himself and discovers that the beauty of the universe shines not only in the framework of the exterior heavens, but also that of the soul that allows itself to be enlightened, and seeks to give meaning to life. From the things that it contemplates, in fact, the spirit is lifting up to God on the breath of prayer and gratitude towards the Creator.”

How many of us have seen a beautiful sunset, or witnessed the enormity of God’s creation? It leaves us breathless, doesn’t it? That’s because, as St. John Paul II says, our very breath is being elevated to God’s peaceful embrace. We see the beauty of our Creator, and we’re reminded of an even greater miracle: the God who created the world created us, too.

How does it feel to be a masterpiece of God, even grander than the highest peaks or most radiant sunsets?

Life is Like Climbing

I blame Frassati for leading me to the sport of rock climbing. He and his friends scaled the heights of Italian mountain ranges in their free time; Tennessee hills aren’t exactly the same, but the same life lessons apply. If you’ve ever tried your hand at rock climbing, perhaps you can see how there is lot to learn about God in the metaphor of this sport.

For example, let’s take my last climbing adventure outdoors. After about a half hour hike with ropes and gear, it was my turn to climb a route on top rope–meaning that I was connected to a belayer at the other end of the rope to protect me from falling (similar to a pulley system). My belayer tied into his harness and looked over my gear and knots. With his all clear, I proceeded upwards. As I climbed, I didn’t really feel my belayer. I knew he was there, taking up each inch of slack in the rope as I progressed; however, it was easy to think it was just me alone on the wall.

…Until I reached the crux, the most difficult set of moves in the route. “Beta?” I called down to my belayer, using my hip climber slang (beta = advice) to alert him to my discomfort. Arms growing weary, I shook as he pointed out what I needed to do next. Following his advice, I proceeded up the overhanging roof of the route, until I tried for a hold just out of reach. I couldn’t possibly do it, I thought, and let go. Maybe I didn’t notice my belayer much before, but now I couldn’t ignore him. Catching my fall, he held me in place; while he waited patiently, I rested, gathering up the strength to start back up the route.

I wanted to give up, but my belayer urged me on. He could see how far I had come, whereas I was stuck with tunnel vision, discouraged about the one move before me. Reluctantly, I continued. Taking a trusting leap, I reached for the hold and grabbed it. My belayer cheered from below. “You’ve got this,” he assured me. I continued to the top, knowing full well that without my belayer I’d have been a goner.

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Sound like anyone we know? God’s the best belayer out there, folks.

As we struggle and tire on our quest to the top of God’s Kingdom, we’re never left alone. We may feel like it’s just us alone on the wall, but God is always supporting us; He feels every struggle and every ounce of progress during our journey. He climbs with us, closely and intimately. And when we fall, it is in His arms that we rest, regaining our strength. His is the voice that encourages us with fervor: Verso l’alto! Onwards — to the heights!

Go Find God

Frassati and St. John Paul II both loved finding Christ in the outdoors. Considering the depths of faith and charity they enacted, I think we could all benefit from taking a few notes.

So how can we make “verso l’alto” our own motto? First step… get up! Get out! Get active! It’s always tempting to sleep in and lounge around, to hide away in our beds instead of facing the cooler temperatures. But Christ doesn’t call us to comfort, He calls us to greatness.

Schedule a regular date with the God of the universe by beholding His beauty. Go on a hike, climb a mountain (with appropriate safety gear and training), watch the sunrise or sunset. Whatever you can do to get outside and see Him, do it!

Equally as important, be intentional with this time. Make it less about the Instagram posts or the fitness step goals, and more about being present to God. Bring your Bible (I love cracking open the Psalms — maybe start with Psalm 8), pray the Rosary as you walk, or simply speak with God, listening to Him in the sound of the animals or the crunching leaves around you. No matter how you pray best, looking at His handiwork can only help!

Lastly, be still. It’s tough to find time to be quiet or alone in our daily lives. But when we can carve away this dedicated time to set down our screens and just be with God, we will experience the beautiful paradox of contemplation: we are alone, yet indescribably connected—to ourselves, to God, and to one another. In the silence, God draws near. In the beauty, He speaks to our souls in a language much stronger than words can ever convey.

So be attentive. He wants to see you. And He wants you to see Him, too.

About the Author

Faith Noah

I’m a college student at Vanderbilt University studying neuroscience. I’m from the great state of Texas, and my hobbies include rapping along to Twenty One Pilots, jamming out on guitar, and watching NCIS marathons. However, at the end of the day, you’ll find me either engaging in sugar-induced fits of hyperactivity or having a deep stimulating theological discussions. One extreme or the other. Fun fact: my whole name (together) is in the Bible. Hebrews 11:7. No big deal.