Ladder on cliff face

Journey into the Mystery of God

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Lance Green, YTI Lecturer in Theology and Adventure

June 2, 2017

The Theology of Adventure

The idea of a robust theological formation must reach far beyond a student’s desk. Thus, YTI’s commitment to adventure is not just an extension of the classroom, but a central task of theology itself. What then does a specifically Christian account of adventure look like?

The very word adventure implies a participation in something beyond the ordinary—something big, bold, and even risky, where we are no longer in complete control. Considering that YTI’s home, Bozeman, Montana, is surrounded by no less than five mountain ranges, you can guess that hiking, skiing, and climbing are commonplace in the community. But a theological paradigm is not required to really enjoy these activities, though there are indeed deeper theological implications woven into them. As Gerard Manley Hopkins famously wrote, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Bracketing God from our engagement with the world is impossible, and every activity, from gardening to mountaineering, has theological implications that demand exploring. What is more, to affirm that all of creation points to its creator implies that a theological account of adventure is an extension of a more primary theology of creation, one that invites an encounter with the divine through the created order.

Meeting God in Adventure

Throughout scripture the wilderness serves as the setting for purification, of being stretched in unexpected and often terrifying ways. Mountains and deserts are depicted as places that challenge and test character and faith, where people die to themselves and have expectations radically shifted. God often chooses to move a person or group through the treacherous landscapes of the wild rather than around it. The greater Christian tradition has long picked up on this biblical theme. Reading the story of Moses’ ascent of Sinai, the early Christian mystics see an analogy to their own spiritual journey, not just in the landscapes they inhabited, but Moses’ very movement into the wilderness and up the mountain toward his ultimate encounter with God.

While the whole journey is difficult and dangerous, arriving at the peak of the summit is just as frightening. This is especially true for Moses, for at the top God is waiting. So abundant is YHWH that to experience him inherently pushes back against expectations and categories, beyond what the mind can grasp. But the darkness and mystery that is God is also a light, what Gregory of Nyssa calls a “luminous darkness.” Gregory says that “the knowledge of God is a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb,” and that “the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and, lifting up his own mind, as to the mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible, believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach (Life of Moses, 2.158).”

Adventure in God

To seek the face of God in the wild places, the places that call for a sense of adventure, demands the willingness to be purified. Broadening horizons is no easy task; assumptions are often dismantled as encounters with God can totally shift our reality. Often these journeys are a bit more than we bargained for. But these are the encounters YTI hopes to facilitate. We want to cultivate more than wanderlust; instead, we want to help people recognize the imprint of the divine on all things and to engage with creation in ways that help them further contemplation and love God. If our world is indeed permeated with the glory of God, then we can agree with St. Bonaventure when he exhorts: “therefore, open your eyes, alert your spiritual ears, unlock your lips, and apply your heart so that in all creation you may see, hear, praise, love, and adore, magnify and honor your God (Soul’s Journey into God, I. 15).” To truly understand the depths of adventure, then, we must be willing to journey into the mystery of the triune God.