– Angela Chong
I was in Taiwan last week on a spiritual-cum-ecoIogical tour named “New Exodus”. As the Chinese name “同行覓主踪” suggests, it was aimed at seeking encounters with God through close contact with Mother Nature.
Before we set off, we had been instructed to read Pope Francis’ encyclical letter On Care for our Common Home. Initially, I did not have much interest in the book and actually gave up reading several times. Now that I have completed the tour, however, I find the book very meaningful and inspiring. A few paragraphs are particularly enlightening as they are so closely associated with the remarkable experiences I have been through. The following is an account of what I now see as a miracle God has worked in me.
Imagine a person of my age climbing up a height of more than 800 metres in a matter of seven plus hours, during which we were allowed only short pauses at wide intervals including a 15-minute lunch break. The climb alone was challenging enough, given the steep gradient and the ruggedness of the steps paved with sandy mud and scattered pebbles. It gradually became more difficult and at times even dangerous as the climb proceeded. To make the matter worse, the rain that we had brushed off as a drizzle had now become heavier and the accompanying wind had also begun to gather speed and strength. Despite the raincoat I had on, I felt water dripping down my forehead and into my eyes.
The uphill path, strewn with puddles, became more and more slippery. I thus had my eyes fixed on the steps every minute of the climb, trying to decide where I should place my walking stick before landing first on one foot and then the other. Often time I had both feet on the same step to keep myself well balanced before climbing up another, thus proceeding at a very slow pace.
When we had finally arrived at the peak, the wind was blowing so violently that I was thrown off balance. I thought I was going to fall down the stairs when a strong pair of arms caught me just in the nick of time. It was a team member who had arrived there before us.
I ought to have felt ecstatic over the conquest of the height. But my worry had not lessened as I had heard comment about the increasing difficulty of the descent. And we were allowed time only enough for a few mouthfuls of the sandwich and a quick change into dry clothes.
The descent, however, turned out to be less hectic than expected. In spite of the ongoing wind and rain, I felt my body weight less pressing. But my pair of legs had become so weak that they could hardly support me. I became wobbly, swaying slightly from side to side out of control. And when the descent finally ended and we settled down in the sheltered quarters, I threw myself onto a stool, dead tired, speechless and drenched to the skin.
Well, it was indeed a miracle that I had completed the climb. I owed much to my teammates for their loving care and support, without which I could have quit shortly after the journey had started.
This experience of mine has convinced me of the truthfulness of the message implied in this quote from On Care for our Common Home … “God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator. … The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge.”
Indeed, I now realize that through my participation in the climb, God has taught me to overcome my fear of danger and of suffering by cooperating with Him. God has also made me realize that there are possibilities that I have previously been unaware of. My success in the climb has proved to me that new things can emerge if only I dare to venture beyond my capabilities and to meet new challenges.