The 4-part Outdoor Adventure Series will consist of essays written by students who participated in one of Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expeditions: a 21-day backpacking trip infused with faith, community, virtue and beauty. You can view a video and learn more about Wyoming Catholic College’s COR Expedition offerings HERE
Essay #1: Mt. Geikie
by MaryAnne Speiss
With a slap, cold woke me; I was freezing! The chill of last night’s storm hung on the air of the tent, and trying to pretend it away did no good. I tensed my entire body to combat the frigid air sneaking into everypore and extricated my aching limbs from the thin bag that had so wretchedly performed its function. All my clothes (save the thin layers I wore) were wet; I could not warm myself. The tent dripped on us; I could not fix it. My bare feet, cringing as they slid into clammy sandals, hurt as cold bit them. I was completely powerless to ameliorate the situation. All I could do was grit my teeth and hurl myself, exhausted and rebellious, through the tent flap and onto the wet mountain grass of the windy valley. My stiff body uncrumpled and poised upright, and then I saw it!
Mt. Geikie stood before me, but not the brutal mound of rock that I had summited
the day before. It still retained its perfect shape, climbing and climbing to a double peak, and my feet and hands still vividly recalled the ledges and dark boulder fields discernible from below. But the storm had transformed the sight before me. No longer was it something known and familiar, as it had been in the garish sunlight; it was now something of immense power, almost eerie in its captivation as soft tendrils of cloud swirled white against the dark peaks, mirroring their swaying counterparts in the sky. They flowed in slow succession into all the crannies and crevices of Geikie, almost to the tree-line. If ever a mountain took on the robes of a god, this was the moment! A shuddering thrill: I had stood on holy ground and had not known it! Would that I had knelt upon the peak. What words were whispered between the rugged rocks and soft curling cloud I could not hear, but though the wind swirled hard about my huddled shoulders and bare ankles, I stood stunned, my misery forgotten.
The vision only lasted a few breathless moments before I was filled with such inspiration that I found myself tromping off, still shivering, to attack the camp’s morning duties with a gusto so intense that it rivalled my recent, vicious frustration.
I was shocked! Had this really happened? Had an experience of intense beauty just given me the ability to bear cold serenely (which had never happened before in my life)? Where was the writhing of my soul in the face of my inability to improve the situation? It was gone, not explained away but suddenly absent, crowded out of my small brain by a deluge of beauty. The frustration begin to seep back from time to time over the course of the morning, and with it the vivid consciousness of pain, but whenever I remembered the beauty of my early morning vision it would again vanish. I was intrigued and began a quest of speculation.
I at last hypothesized that pain is comprised of two things, both which we call pain by themselves though perhaps we are wrong in so doing: firstly, the discomfort caused by an inevitable stimulus, and secondly, the impotent frustration that usually ensues. These go hand in hand so regularly that I had not clearly noticed this distinction before. It appeared to me now that the frustration was not inevitable and could indeed be avoided by counteracting it with beauty, either in actuality or in memory, which would then allow for a strengthened and vivacious going-onward with life. So I set out to test my theory, and I soon broadened my experiment not just to physical discomfort but also to mental discomfort.
As painful situations would spring upon me, I was ready for them. At one time my eyes ached from exhaustion; I recalled the crescent moon crested by a planet that I had seen the night before, and, sure enough, I found that I could go on invigorated, my frustration dissipated. At another time, I found myself on the verge of cursing at an annoying situation; I looked up and saw some fresh-cut flowers and returned to a place of inner cool. In no case did the exhaustion or annoyance magically disappear, but they lost the edge that made them feel unbearable, and I could then attack or tolerate problems with considerably more ease and courage. St. Paul might have meant something far more immediate and tangible than I had ever realized when he famously penned “whatever is lovely … think about these things.” (The Holy Bible, RSV, Phil. 4.8). So far my vision of Mt. Geikie had only lead me to confront lesser manifestations of the problem of evil. Little did I suspect that through it, and through my speculations on the nature of pain, I would get a glimpse of a deeper answer I had been seeking for years.
I, (and I know that I am far from alone in this), have long been locked in close combat with the problem of evil’s most affronting manifestation: the suffering of innocent victims. I was aware that my impotent rage at this injustice was etching itself deeper and deeper into my heart. The older I got, the more it threatened to shatter me. I could follow the arguments of theologians like C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain as they used logic to explain how such outrage could be allowed by a good God. I could even intellectually assent to such arguments; only, I could not come close to inward peace on the subject. I had no concrete example to draw upon in order to comprehend how somehow, someday, it could be possible to accept a reason for innocent suffering without experiencing devastating inward rebellion. Indeed, I had several times considered whether I should “most respectfully return [God] the ticket” (245) to heaven, alongside Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov.
But then I saw it! Of course! Everything suddenly came clear; my image of Geikie was the example I needed! For an intense, flashing second I saw a metaphorical Geikie, not the mountain of stone but now representing the whole of history. It too was swathed in clouds, the clouds of all innocent suffering since the fall of man. If, thought I, the very clouds that caused the misery on the freezing morning were the things that redeemed it in the end — with beauty and not explanation — then it is possible, just possible, for the same to be true of innocent sufferings when seen from the end of time.
I stand stunned, my heart at peace.