I have tried to change my persona of being a city boy to a want-a-be mountain man. (Thank God I can grow some facial hair which helps I am told with the rugged look I so desire.)
Well a few years ago my wife graciously accepted the idea to honeymoon in the Grand Tetons. We planned a trip to not only see the jagged Wyoming rocks, but to grasp and seize the cold stacked stone. During our vacation we wisely hired a climbing guide to train and lead us sadistically up to summit the Grand Teton. We practiced with him many climbing and roping techniques. He also discussed strategy and route options. (What a honeymoon, huh?) There was a certain statement I remember him emphasizing to us over and over again, “At the top of the mountain you are only half-way there. You are not finished. More climbers,” his voice grew louder and sterner, “die on the way down than they do on then way up.”
“But why” I asked.
“Because I believe they think the worst is over. And in all honesty it is. The physical activity of fighting gravity is reversed. Going down is physically easier and not as exciting. And it is in this relaxed, confident thickening atmosphere that climber sometimes becomes unfocused and careless. Therefore they losing their precious flea like hold to the mountain and fall off.” I finished this dangerous conversation with an, “Oh.”
And “Oh” there are stories about Jesus in the Bible that I know I brush over time and time again without giving it much thought or time of day. I easily allow myself to create my own “reality” of what Jesus was like. For example I will explore the mount of transfiguration story. Historically when I attended Sunday school I loved this story! Incredible! And I believed it happened without a second thought. Yet in my wise old age of twenty-six years of living on this planet, hearing now this same story I immediately label it new age-ish and incredibly hard to believe this incident actually occurred. But that is how it is told in the Gospel as Peter, James, and John followed Jesus atop the mountain. These guys honest to God believed they saw heroes of the Faith, glowing, transformed by I have to guess by the power of the living God, YWH. Jesus, Elijah, and Moses were shown in their immortal glory!!! Maybe can I guess their heavenly bodies?
In the Star Wars trilogies the dead Jedi knights come back to Luke Skywalker to direct and encourage him in his fight against the Dark Side. Obviously the scene was not shot in Hollywood but seen on a mountain and recorded in Israel. What kind of drugs were these guys on? (See my cynicism? And I can’t seem to help it. Please forgive me I am being vulnerable by sharing my what-could-be irreligious thoughts aloud.)
And I doubt it because seeing dead people of faith on top of a mountain has never happened to me. In fact I have never knowingly in my life seen Jesus. I have read about him sure, but that is it as far as I know. And for me mountaintop and mystical experiences that I have had seems to have little effect on strengthening my long-term faith in the God of Jesus Christ. In fact it is the valleys, the falls, the “slough of despondency”, or to steal an Alcoholic Anonymous term “hitting rock bottom” that has allowed me to realize what a “bare, forked animal” I am. I had only look up and hire the Guide, safety rope included hold me to this day from falling farther than I ought to my death. Yes, of course, there is a mountain. There is a mountain. There is a mountain.
Yet even still I find it rather impossible to have mere faith the size of a pebble. God help me. But in those Vertigo moments I tug on the safety rope of faith, finding sanity, purity, and wildness that is beyond my little piece of the mountain. I do have faith even as I doubt. I find comfort in the resurrected and pierced Comforter’s words to his doubting disciple Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
I was given a mountaineer quote book boosting my mountain man status up a bit. Inside the pages G.K. Chesterton wrote, “One sees great things from the valleys; only small things from the top.” So I still shake my head in disbelief that I made it back alive, transformed from the real mountains upon mountains that We have ascended and descended together…