Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Climbing the Mountain of Youth Ministry, Part 1

Longs Peak off in the distance
This Florida boy has fallen in love with the mountains since moving to Denver over a year ago. This summer I climbed 8 mountains that were each over 14,000 feet tall. There are over 50 such mountains in Colorado. I am very satisfied with the number of mountains climbed this summer but there is one that seems to taunt me daily. I can see Longs Peak (14,259ft) from my apartment and most places in Denver. Every day it sits there as if its rocky face were mocking me like an elementary school boy sticking out his tongue. This antagonistic relationship has developed because I have yet to climb Longs Peak, having summited all of its neighboring peaks.

            Despite this seemingly hostile relationship with Longs, I have been blessed to have some deeply spiritual experiences this summer while climbing some of the 14ers of Colorado. Climbing mountains afford a lot of time for meditation, self reflection and an encounter with the Lord removed from the many distractions of our daily lives. In the trailer for 180° SouthYvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia Clothing, offers a compelling reflection on the purpose of climbing mountains.

In this trailer, he says that mountaineers are “conquerors of the useless”. "You learn that what's important in life is how you got there, not what you have accomplished." In the movie he goes on to talk about how there is no point to summiting mountains unless you are changed in the process. If the whole point of climbing is to get to the top then it is pointless. But if the goal is to effect a change in yourself, to become a better person through the climb (I would add also, the purpose of encountering the God of creation) then it is worth while. This can be a good reminder for us as youth ministers. There is a danger in our work to see our job as simply putting on retreats, events and programs. I can look at my calendars as simply a list of goals to cross off, a veritable mountain range of peaks to summit. I look forward to finishing an event or just making it through that retreat. If that is my mindset then I have become a ‘conqueror of the useless’. Instead I should see my programs and events as opportunities for conversion, the change of heart being the goal rather than the accomplishment of yet another event or program. I should focus on the bigger journey and how I am allow God to guide me and the youth rather than all the individual goals that I feel need to be accomplished.

            The other thing I have realized in climbing is that I am never on the journey alone. Whether I am hiking with a group of good friends or on a solo journey I am in the company of Christ; He is my traveling companion. I will never reach my goal without leaning upon Him. St. Bernard reflects:

“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?” (Ps. 23:3) If anyone aspires to climb to the summit of that mountain (Ex. 24:17), that is to the perfection of virtue, he will know how hard the climb is, and how the attempt is doomed to failure without the help of the Word. Happy the soul which causes the angels to look at her with joy and wonder and hears them saying, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, rich in grace and beauty, leaning upon her beloved?” (Song 8:5). Otherwise, unless it leans on him, its struggle is in vain.  … Surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon him who can do all things? What confidence there is in the cry, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)

This is the difference between ‘conquering’ a mountain and experiencing conversion on the journey; between crossing off another retreat on my calendar and seeing my job as leading youth (and myself) on a continual way of conversion.

Let us ascend the mountain of the Lord and continue on the journey with his strength to uphold us, and his light to guide us. Let us not fall into the trap of seeing the journey as something to get over with but instead as a pilgrimage to be transformed by more and more into the Person of Jesus Christ! Amen

1 comment:

  1. Patrick! I was looking for you and Kristi's emails to see if you guys are taking any kids to Edge Camp this summer and stumbled upon your blog. You are a really good writer! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections. Especially about climbing the mountain of youth ministry and life. That quote from St. Bernard is the I will be reflecting on that for a very long time. Let us continue the climb to the summit of perfect virtue and heaven. Now I actually desire to climb 14er. Crazy days.