*The following is a guest post by Dan
Ron Kauk is one of the world’s most renowned rock climbers. A fixture at Yosemite during the climbing season, he’s pioneered routes on some of the most notorious walls, including a few first ascents on El Capitan. His death-defying talents were on display for the world in the movie “Mission Impossible 2,” where he stood in for Tom Cruise on the opening scenes of some hairy free climbs in Southern Utah.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Kauk – in a submission for a book entitled “50 Favorite Climbs” – declined to succumb to what I’m sure was a temptation to out-badass his fellow contributors with a harrowing tale of dangling from his fingertips above certain death, and designated his favorite climb as a little bouldering jaunt near the bottom of Yosemite’s Middle Cathedral Rock.
It was a route he discovered in the late ‘70s when he was trying to break in a new pair of shoes before hitting the big walls. A couple hundred feet in length, topping out only about 10 feet above the ground, it hardly seemed challenging to a pro like Kauk. But he fell in love with it, and would return constantly over the years, as a way to connect with what he loved about climbing.
“Since you are not in any big risk, you can concentrate on what’s inside you and discover yourself in a really peaceful way,” he said in the book.
As anyone knows, risk is a big part of climbing. You undertake an effort to conquer a pass, or scale a wall, all while knowing that a small miscalculation can bring about a painful demise. When you reach the summit, you have the satisfaction of having accomplished a brutal physical challenge while defying the laws of gravity and – on some particularly gnarly routes – some pretty lop-sided odds.
While many find faith to be comforting, I’ve always seen it as a challenge, with accompanied dangers. As a hope for things not seen, faith is a gamble, whether it leads one to enter a marriage, start a business, go on a mission or devote a lifetime of service to a religious organization. One can approach it carefully, judiciously or even with some trepidation, but at the end, a leap of faith will be required somehow. And sometimes that leap is just within our own minds, when we decide to adopt a belief that might strike others as far-fetched and build a life around it.
I’ve never been very good at this myself. I’m a person who tends to hedge my bets, never let myself get too far in. I claimed to believe in the precepts of my religion without really fully giving myself over to them. Some may think this is wisdom in hindsight, as it spared me a lot of the pain that others experience when they learn new information that challenges previously held beliefs. The reality was this had nothing to do with wisdom – it was more about self-preservation. I’ve approached faith like a climber who only does Kauk’s bouldering route on Cathedral Rock without really putting myself on the line. Many disaffected believers experience pain perhaps akin to taking a leap, and falling. I stayed safe, but perhaps missed some experiences that could have been both painful and rewarding.
Upon reflection, I have realized how much I am drawn to people of faith – without being one myself. Why I’ve maintained my activity in Mormonism while highly skeptical of most of the Faith’s foundational claims. I am both amazed and repulsed by what people do out of faith. Their example to me is valuable, both by inspiring me to occasionally let go – and learning when not to.
I realize this makes me a rather odd duck. Organized religion for many is about affirmation. For me, it’s a challenge, one that at times looks as daunting as El Cap on a hot summer day with sweaty palms. While I will likely continue to play it safe, toying around at the fringes, I remain on lookout for those moments when faith may inspire me to branch out a little. Who knows where that will lead. The unknown can be both scary an exciting at the same time.