I ski, but not well. I devote much of my time skiing in prayer to Jesus, whose protection and humor I must beg every ski season. Skiing leaves plenty of time for prayer, as there’s really not much to it: You stand atop a mountain and move forward down the slope until you slam into someone or something at the bottom. There is a limit to how skillful I can be at this sport, so it’s better to use this time with the Lord.
In that light, I have discovered several contemplations that I find helpful when attempting to ski down the mountain.
1. My first prayer is always for patience. I need this patience to ski with my husband, because we do not agree on very simple things. For example, all ski resorts have many well-placed signs warning, “Control your speed.” I assert that this statement means that no skier, regardless of gender, should go faster than they can control. I, for example, frequently fall onto my backside, thereby slowing my speed considerably. This gives me great control.
My husband — and, let’s face it, most men in general — think speed control means going as fast as you can in a mostly upright position. It is not by any means a speed limit. There is no such thing in skiing — just as there is no speed limit, say, in roller blading off a high-diving board. So I always start my day praying for strength and patience to accept that “control your speed” means “stay out of the way.”
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience (Col 1:11).
2. Skiing gives me plenty of opportunities to contemplate God’s original design. Lots of women ski, but it’s the males who dominate out there. Men often ski competitively in groups: They gang together at the top of a slope, eating Power Bars,stomping their skis, and blowing steam and mucus. They cluster, this Male Ambush Team, and survey the terrain ahead. Then one guy yells, “Hey, let’s jump over that woman sitting down there, weave through the clump of trees, and duck under the orange TRAILS MERGING sign!” Suddenly, they’re off on their testosterone-powered mission, heading downhill at breakneck speed . . . straight at me.
It’s at these moments that I begin to wonder if the male design is fundamentally flawed, at least when functioning without the female half — but I usually don’t have much time to consider it.
When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created (Gen 5:1-2).
3. Crashes give me the chance to practice self-control. When injured — even if I only suspect injury — I stay down for a while, moan, and ask Jesus to give me the strength not to spit at the guy currently standing over me, laughing and saying, “Wow, you really smacked the snow.”
These prayers can take a while to work, but diagnosing injuries takes a long time, too. A herd of ski personnel must assemble around you and take turns groping your body while discussing their findings with each other. I can often make it through the better part of a rosary during this process.
Bonus: If you are tired of skiing for the day, these personnel must actually pick you up, gently put you in a sleigh with warm blankets, and then give you a fresh tank of oxygen and a ride down the mountain. This is Jesus’ way of answering your prayer.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice (Eph 4:31).
4. I have learned to diligently monitor skiing for episodes of lust. Perhaps it’s the fresh, cold air, but ski slopes can provoke unexpected moments of temptation. I’ve been fooled more than once — like the day my husband said, “Honey, you don’t ski very well and you keep getting injured. Let me give you some pointers.” His first pointer was this: “When you turn, thrust your hips forward.” This was very sly instruction — for, I later learned, it had no relation whatsoever to skiing. I proceeded down the hill, nonetheless, trying to follow his instructions. At the bottom, my husband hugged me warmly and whispered, “You are my hot sweetie pie.”
You will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes (Num 15:39).
5. When taking skiing lessons, I often pray for extra focus and the willingness to obey instructions. I have a rebellious streak and have been known to ignore good advice simply to be contrary.
But I learned that I have limits. I know a ski-instructor, “Steve,” a rugged guy who wears matching green-and-yellow jacket and pants. He told me that skiing was simple: “Check your bindings and buckles, maintain athletic stance, put your weight forward, turn both feet at the same time, look down the mountain, bend at waist, not that far!, pole plant softly with a flick of wrist, bend ankles, bend knees, bend elbows, press forward, don’t lean back, don’t sit down, don’t look at your feet, don’t stick your butt out like that, don’t rest on your heels, don’t look up the mountain for the Male Ambush Team, don’t be afraid.”
Really? The best way out of this situation, I have found, is to recognize my personal limits to being obedient and politely excuse myself to the bathroom.
Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say (Phlm 1:21).
6. Skiing in fog, blizzards, and high winds helps me reflect on the final suffering of mankind. These conditions make it impossible to see where you are going, or where you have been, or where your equipment is, or where your feet are. Frequently, it’s impossible even to distinguish up from down — you must simply point your skis and see where they go.
Staring into complete white-out, with 50-mile-an-hour winds pummeling my body, I have experienced severe panic and vertigo and fallen over without any effort whatsoever. This, of course, lands me back in a sitting position, where I become immediately terrified of the Male Ambush Team– now unable to see anything as they joyfully speed on the howling wind. In these moments of fear, I promise to never ski again — knowing this terror is the very punishment for having broken that promise yet again.
Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the power of heaven will be shaken (Mt 24:29).
Finally, remember Our Lady of Graces. The Catholic Church has named at least three patron saints of skiing, this being a sport with people in chronic need and pain. Our Lady of Graces is the only female; the others saints are guys with names like Bernard. Frequently, instead of pondering my frozen feet, the snow blowing up my nose, and the whereabouts of the Male Ambush Team, I murmur Hail Marys and hope that Our Lady of Graces is the duty saint for the day.
So far, I think this has worked: I have always gotten to the bottom of the mountain before dark, and none of my injuries has required stitches or intensive care. Our Lady of Graces surely deserves the credit, since my skiing is so poor — and no improvement seems in sight.