Over the last few weeks, I did a lot of stair-climbing. It wasn’t just at our walk-up rental in Paris, but in museums, castles, cathedrals, old hilly towns, terraced gardens (aren’t you sympathetic for my knees? …not so much?). By far, the most terrifying climbing, as one might imagine, was in the cathedrals–two of which enticed us up into their spires to enjoy the great heights which Medieval builders scaled.
Above, in Strasbourg, it took all my concentration to commit to each step up. If I took my attention off of just the next stone slab in front of me–if I looked out over the rooftops, or looked up the set of stairs as far as I could see, or stayed still on the steps too long–I got dizzy and I would suddenly feel unsteady, as if I was about to lose my balance and was going to fall. Objectively, my body was no less-grounded whether my eyes were looking at rooftops or at my feet, but my mind and heart were easily overwhelmed with the task at hand: overcoming my fear of heights in order to be able to enjoy the secure and amazing view at the top of the stairs.
I realized as I climbed that the journey up the spiral stairs was a fruitful way to think about trials in our everyday lives. Focusing on more than the very next step in front of us, allowing ourselves to lose focus on the present moment in order to try to take in the whole project we’re working through–that’s a recipe for disaster; the only way to not be overwhelmed, crushed by the enormity of the present reality, or drowned in a deluge of fear and negative emotions, is to actively put them out of your mind–to practice putting them out of your mind over and over again, and to choose (and practice!) instead focusing on just the one next thing to do. Thankfully, in my case, the one next thing was very clear, and very simple–step up. One at a time.
Climbing these stairs at Chartres, just as climbing through trials in life, I didn’t know how long the ordeal was going to last before I arrived at the top and I couldn’t enjoy the views and hints of the reward in the midst of my climbing–it made me feel unsteady and sick!
Just as in life, what got me through was deep, deep breathing. What is breathing but inviting air–wind–to move through you, to energize, awaken, enliven you? What is the Holy Spirit but air, wind?
In our trials, throughout our lives, God is eager for us to call upon the Holy Spirit to surround, fill, enliven, energize, and sustain each of us every single step of the way.