Sunday, May 8, 2011

Altitude Adjustments

"Jesus led them to a high mountain to pray . . . "
"Coming down from the mountain, they were met by a demon. . ."
~ The New Testament Gospels

Mountaineers deal with a condition called, Acute Mountain Sickness. Upon leaving sea level to pursue lofty heights they are affected by the altitude change. Usually, its debilitating affects won't manifest until after the descent. Headaches, fatigue, restlessness, and sleepless nights are common symptoms. Tolerance varies from person-to-person. Some fall victim at only six thousand feet. Others experience little more than shortness of breath at fourteen thousand feet. Sherpas live in the Andes Mountains and their bodies have adapted to high altitudes. Climbers from all over the world depend on Sherpas as porters and guides to the apex of the earth -- the monstrous Mt. Everest.

One thing is for sure, no matter the climber, each has an invisible threshold. There is a physiological tipping point that scrambles the body and mind. Predicting when it will manifest itself is an inexact science, but all who press upward will discover that they can only go so high and stay for so long.

I love mountaintops and I have been blessed to stand on the summit of a few. . .

Mt. Katahdin, in my home State of Maine, was my first climb. At its peak is a man-made pyramid of stones stacked 12' high to make it an even mile. In its shadowed crevices I saw snow in the middle of the summer, and never before had I stood above the clouds. Katahdin was the top of my world. As adrenalin spiked, I wanted a bigger mountain to climb.

In Montana, I hiked on the Bear Tooth, and Crazy Woman Mountains. Both ranges are ragged, rugged, serrated, and spectacular. Their terrain is impossible to quantify in words -- you feel them in your soul. I wanted to skin a grizzly and become a mountain man.

In Washington State, I climbed Mt. Saint Helen on the 20th anniversary of her volcanic eruption. To put the magnitude of the explosion in perspective, think back to your history lessons about the bomb dropped on Japan to bring WWII to an end. Helen's eruption equaled 20,000 nukes the size of the one that evaporated Hiroshima. From where I stood on St. Helens, it was less than a mile from ground-zero. Glowing red lava gurgled up and spilled over the rim of the massive crater that was once a mountaintop. I wanted to trek around the steaming caldron and get a once-in-a-life-time pictures of the seismic wonder.

Mt. Elbert, in Colorado, is the second highest peak in the lower 48 states. As far as scaling physical mountains go, it was by far the most challenging for this flat lander. Putting feet to my upward gaze, I labored to its peak, 14, 440 feet above sea level. At times, I could go no more than 50', or see more than 50', due to blowing snow and sleet. What thin oxygen there was available felt like it was being sucked out of my lungs by the high winds. I could trudge no more than 50' at a time. Freezing rain stung my face and filled in my traversing back-trail in minutes. When my mission to the get to the top was accomplished I was exhilarated, but soon reality set in and to stay longer would mean risking a lonely dangerous descent in frigid darkness.

Still, no matter the conditions, soaking in the vistas from the peaks is always preferred to shrunken views at a mountain's roots. Splendid is the view from the top -- the grandeur and glory of God can be seen for miles!

At the top of this post are two quotes from the Gospels. In the pages of the New Testament there are a couple dozen references to mountains, and in the Old Testament Scriptures there are many, many more. Taken together, both Testaments use mountains as physical land marks, but also spiritual markers.

My spiritual mountaintops dwarf any physical adventure to high places. I have written thousands of words atop those summits, and in doing so I found there is such a thing as Spiritual Altitude Sickness. Without a doubt, some people can go higher and stay higher longer than others, but every single person has a spiritual threshold. No one gets to put down stakes, pitch their tent, and stay on a spiritual mountaintop. We must come down from the mountain and meet our demons. To do so, an Altitude Adjustment must be made.

Uncommon spiritual mountaintop experiences are needed and should be expected. Such sublime journeys energize our spirit, balance our perspective, give respite from civilization, and leave markers for hard fought victories. While aloft all is good -- God is easily seen and experienced. But just as Jesus led his Disciples straight into an epic mountaintop experience, he also led them straight downhill and into the valley where all hell broke loose.

We cannot maintain spiritual highs. It is Jesus who arranges those blessed moments, and it is Jesus who leads us down the back slopes and into the foray to advance the Kingdom. We enjoy the adventure, but not so much.

We can decide we won't make Altitude Adjustments, and instead seek suppliers for our addiction to the dramatic.

Or . . .

We can come to terms with the truth that mountaintops can obscure God, and that it is in the valley we learn to first to -- believe God. Then -- we see God as never before.

No comments:

Post a Comment