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The view from the top: Seeing life from a different perspective

To encourage students to consider why they might face, rather than avoid, difficult situations (SEAL theme: Motivation).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider why they might face, rather than avoid, difficult situations (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • The poem ‘Climbing Suilven’ can be found in Norman MacCaig – Collected Poems (Chatto Poetry, Chatto & Windus). There are (illegal) copies at various locations on the web.
  • The story of Jesus’ ascent of the mountain and his transfiguration can be found in three of the Gospels. Choose between Matthew 17.1–8, Mark 9.2–13 and Luke 9.28–36.


  1. Allegedly, the climber George Mallory, when asked the question, ‘Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?’ replied, ‘Because it’s there.’

    There’s something about any hill or mountain that invites you to climb it. This might entail a gentle stroll up a winding path, or a strenuous clamber over rocks and through muddy undergrowth. But for all who undertake the challenge, whatever the level of difficulty, there will be the shared excitement of the last few metres, the anticipation as the land drops away to reveal the splendour of the view.
  2. (Read Norman MacCaig’s poem ‘Climbing Suilven’ about his ascent of a mountain in the remote Scottish Highlands, the effort required and the reward of the view from the summit.)

    The effort needed to gain the summit may have been considerable, but the reward in terms of the view and the sense of achievement more than compensates for the aching limbs and pounding heart. From a hill or mountain top you can see things you would never see from ground level.
  3. Jesus regularly climbed hills and mountains. Hilltops were favourite venues of his for preaching and teaching. One part of Matthew’s Gospel is even known as ‘the sermon on the mount’.

    Once Jesus took Peter, James and John, three of his closest followers, up a high mountain, far away from the crowds that followed him everywhere. There the three disciples saw him in a totally new light. The Gospel account talks of Jesus’ appearance changing and God’s voice speaking from heaven. On that mountain top Peter, James and John gained a new appreciation of who Jesus was and how he saw his mission in life.

Time for reflection

Life is full of challenges. Some appear easily attainable. Others tower over us like high mountains and form a barrier that separates us from where we really want to be.

The challenge may come in many different forms. It may be a person to confront, a performance to give, a task to complete, a request for help, an apology to make, a temptation to avoid. It would be tempting to take the easy way round, avoiding the challenge and the effort of overcoming it. Perhaps the situation would be forgotten in the not too distant future.

However, there may be an opportunity wasted by taking the easy way. Norman MacCaig and Jesus’ three disciples found that by making the effort to climb the mountain, to overcome the barrier, they gained a whole new perspective on things.

When we tackle an obstacle, life changes for us. We find out something about ourselves: our determination, our courage, our personal resources. We may find out something about others in the response they give to our words and actions.

By reaching the summit we gain a new perspective that we’d never have experienced by staying safe on the easy low ground. Mountain climbing is worth trying.



Dear Lord,

thank you for the challenges we are faced with.

May we see them not as obstacles

but as opportunities to see things from a different perspective.

May we have the determination and the anticipation to take up the challenge

and then to enjoy the transformed view.



‘Climb every mountain’ from The Sound of Music (deliberately cheesy and tongue in cheek!)

Publication date: August 2012   (Vol.14 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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