Nathan Doneen

I've relocated. Not just to a new apartment complex, or to a new neighborhood. It's not even that I moved from one city to another. I've switched states altogether. I was craving something a bit different.

I wanted somewhere with a good outdoor recreation scene—I love the outdoors. Now, it's not like there isn't a lot of fantastic recreation in Eastern Washington … but there's not a lot of job opportunities for a someone with zero experience already three years out of college. I know … I looked.

After my winter spent working 65 hours in my 4 day work week—and still barely scraping by—I wanted a higher wage. It was time to put that degree to use.

That is how I ended up in Utah. Salt Lake City offered me the job I was hoping for in the setting I dreamed of. And I'm actively trying to be a part of that setting.

That action is what took me to a rock climber's social and impromptu instruction session this past week. It was when talking about anchors that our instructor let slip his AMGA status (American Mountain Guides Association) … and the fact that he had written the climbing guide books to two of the valleys most prominent recreational canyons.

We battered him with questions.

"What's the most scared you've ever been?"

"Do you have any first ascents?"

"Which route name that you've given is your favorite?"

When a rock climber is the first to ascend a route he gets to name it. It turns out, our instructors favorite name he had given was "losing my religion." He then told us the story of the first ascent, how on the second pitch his partner was climbing up a crack when he ran into a bush. There was no way around it—no good rock features outside of the crack. So his partner had to fight through, clawing and cussing and snapping off dead branches trying to drag him down. Of course, with the path clear, it was easier for our guide who breezed right through that section.

"So, do you guys know what that means?"

I had always assumed I did. However, when he asked, I knew I couldn't explain it.

He offered a simple explanation, saying when someone was irritated, or about to be pushed over the edge, they might say of themselves they are losing their religion … as in, their next immediate action might contradict their moral understanding of themselves.

"But really, there's a second meaning."

By this time I had figured out how to explain my interpretation of this concept: I just thought of it as someone losing trust in their own belief, and perhaps even feeling they should let it go.

He went on: "To say you've lost your religion, well that's like saying you've experienced something so profound, you don't need it anymore. The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line, right? Well imagine your religion is over here," motioning to his right, "and imagine God is right in front of you." He looked out in front of us, eyes focusing on nothing in particular. "Once you figure out how to draw that straight line, you don't need this," he said, gesturing back to his notion of religion hanging in the air to his right. "You don't need that structure. So you lose it, because it no longer helps your experience with God."

I was a bit dumbfounded … and suddenly aware of my adolescence. I'm not that young—but to hear the stark contrast in our interpretations was a bit disturbing to my ego.

Of course! Losing your religion isn't about losing faith, but understanding it on a deeper level. It's not about letting go of a belief, but letting go of the structures that contain it … the structures that imprison it.

I've been thinking about the most religious experiences of my own life, and I understood our guide's definition to be true. Reflecting back, I see no structure there. Some instances were very chaotic actually—completely lacking structure. But in those moments I found a new depth of reality, a new depth of life.

"So which definition is the name based on?"

He smirked and looked to the sun as it fell to the western horizon. We were in a back yard perched above the city, at the foot of the mountain (as is most the city) looking out toward downtown Salt Lake City. The moment was serene.

Or SRENE (Strong, Redundant, Equalized, Not Extending), a rock climber's acronym if ever I've seen one—one that is meant to guide the construction of anchors. But that's just like a philosophizing rock climber isn't it, to cram so much meaning into so little?

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