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CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: Climber found his inner strength and clarity of mind in adversity

By Alasdair Fraser

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Duncan Macpherson.
Duncan Macpherson.

The young climber, high on the sheer face of a frozen waterfall, was bone-cold and exhausted. He had no energy to continue, yet if he did nothing he would plunge to death when his strength failed.

He had no interest in Christian faith, yet in the crisis he prayed. “Help! Help! Please get me out of here.” Then he put that “flicker of faith into action”, struggling upwards, each swing of the ice-axe, each fixing of crampons accompanied by a fervent prayer. “Help me!”

And he found within him (or was given) a strength and clarity of mind which brought him again to level ground.

In the days which followed, Steve Aisthorpe reflected on “what had happened in those intense few minutes”, and shortly afterwards embraced Christian faith.

Our minister Duncan Macpherson read this story during a recent online service from a book by Steve, now a Kingussie-based Church of Scotland mission development worker, and still a keen mountaineer.

A 15th century fresco by Piero della Francesca depicts Jesus’ resurrection. Gloriously alive he stands, holding a flag symbolising victory over death. Beneath him, we see the soldiers supposedly on guard, actually sound asleep. Something wondrous is unfolding, but they miss it completely.

We seem so often to drift into a sleep in which we fail to recognise that the universe is not simply a material thing. It (and we too) are sustained by the energy of God’s creative breath. Many of the wisest people who ever lived have realised this. Why are we so prone to miss it?

Fear, pride, negativism, depression, closed minds, the pressure of routine, the wounds of bad experience – these are just some of the narcotics which dull us to the Wonder.

The Resurrection Fresco by Piero della Francesca.
The Resurrection Fresco by Piero della Francesca.

The Christian good news is a call to rouse ourselves, to open our eyes! Duncan mentioned some of the God-given prompts which can awaken us: “A birth, a loss, a chance encounter, lavish kindness, a time of solitude.”

But often, the awakening comes as it did for Steve Aisthorpe through a desperate crisis, when we feel we no longer in control of our lives and our old way of understanding the world no longer works.

And Duncan finished his sermon with another story about someone – a fixer of problems by nature – who had been confronted through Covid-19 with the fact that there are so many things in life we can’t fix, and in that crisis of need had encountered God in a new and deeper way.

We are called to open our eyes, to see the aliveness of Jesus, to see the whole universe as the living body of God, to crawl over the daunting summit of the waterfall and find ourselves dancing on ice.

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