Four hours after he took his first step on the morning of June 3, 31 year- old Alex Honnold had successfully climbed the 2,700 foot high rock wall in Yosemite National Park known as “El Capitan”. Honnold was not the first person to ever climb it nor the fastest. Nor the first one to take the most difficult route up.
But Alex Honnold was the first person to ever climb El Capitan in what is called “free solo style” - alone and without a rope or any other protective equipment. Which meant that any mistake or misstep would likely be his last.
It was an achievement that J.B. MacKinnon of The New Yorker described as “never quite accepted as possible”, partly because of the enormous skill required, but also because of the tremendous fear involved. As Sonnie Trotter, an expert climber who helped Honnold train for his free-solo climb up El Capitan told MacKinnon, “climbers get terrified up there, even when they’re on a safety rope”...
It is no secret that this is a time of significant fear for many in our nation. There seems to be a widespread sense of being on El Capitan without a rope. The question that remains to be answered though, as it is in all times of fear, is how we will respond.
Alex Honnold’s response to the fear that came with climbing El Capitan was what MacKinnon called “careful cultivation”. Honnold practiced diligently each day. He formed and maintained helpful physical, mental and emotional habits. And he crafted a well-considered plan. That is what made it possible for him to both believe and trust he could successfully make that climb, and keep his fear from distracting him so he could see and take any new steps or course adjustments that were necessary along the way.
That is how we can - how we must - move beyond this time of fear as God’s people. We must resolve to engage in “careful spiritual cultivation”. We must resolve to form and maintain the time-honored and tested spiritual habits - the habits embodied by Jesus - prayer; contemplation; study; service; compassion; listening; non-violence; and peace from justice, both individually and as a spiritual community. That is the path up this El Capitan, the route to keeping fear from distracting us, so we are able to see and take new steps or necessary course adjustments along the way.
It will not be a fast nor easy climb. But there is no other way for us to ascend toward being the nation and society God calls us to be - no other way for us to keep from all falling together.
Which will we choose to believe in more - our fear or our God?