The Numinous World of Outdoor Adventure

I am currently reading a fascinating book, Explorers of the Infinite: The Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes-and what they Reveal About Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communication, and Touching the Beyond. It delves into the spiritual realm that flows along side the world of adventure and extreme sports. I recently finished another book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One Story Universe, which explains how modernism and scientific rationalism have relegated God and the spiritual realm to a “second story,” effectively teaching that, although the Other may exist, it has no relevance to life on earth.

It may be possible to convince oneself that God is just “the Man Upstairs” if  one withdraws from the natural world and from the reality of death, but a few hundred years ago, that would have been impossible for anyone except the richest few. Could it be that in the western world today, our desperation to protect ourselves from risk has shut us off to spiritual realities?

C.S. Lewis argues in The Problem of Pain that man did not make up a religious sense, a sense of the numinous, because of the experience of awe and fear of the natural world, but rather that the numinous, this sense of spiritual awe, is in fact an integral part of life in this world.

A week on Ross Lake with Steve and Ike.
It may seem that the modern push to experience nature for “fun,” apart from the daily struggle for survival, emerged in the wake of industrialization and urbanization. However, even when humans interacted with the natural world  and experienced risk to a degree unknown in industrialized nations today, those who wanted to seek God above everything left for the edge of their known world. My favorite example, of course, are the Irish monks who set themselves afloat in skin boats, sometimes with no oars, and let God take them where he would.
After paddling into a headwind with rain falling and waves crashing over the bow for three hours, we were  thrilled to see the sun emerge.

Likewise, many mountaineers, kayakers, extreme skiers, and other athletes, chose to go to edge in order to experience the numinous as our ancestors might have.

However, I have seen enough of the outdoor industry to know that most people never process their spiritual outdoor experiences and often mistake the adrenaline rush end in itself, rather than a means to knowing God.

Take delight in all things that surround us. All things teach us and lead us to God. All thing around us are droplets of the love of God–both things animate and inanimate, the plants and the animals, the birds and the mountains, the sea and the sunset and the starry sky. They are little loves through which we attain to the great Love, that is Christ.
-Elder Porphyrios

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