I don’t like heights. I don’t like the thought of falling. No, I was not dropped as a child. But I have to admit, I did enjoy roller coasters once. Call it youthful exuberance, thrill-seeking, or just plain madness. But those days are behind me. I have decided some time ago I can raise my heart rate in less stressful ways, without suffering migraines, stomach upset, whiplash, or the inevitable loss of composure resulting in undignified behavior of some sort. Things happen really fast when you’re falling. Plus there’s that inescapable sudden stop at the end. But just focusing on the journey down, even on a roller coaster, I do not like that my feet are dangling in empty space. I like solid ground. I like a firm footing. And the farther my feet are from that firm footing, the more stress I experience. Sometimes the illusion of a firm footing works just fine. That’s why I can get on an airplane and travel across the ocean. The firm footing that is the airplane’s cabin floor is adequate assurance for me. But when I lose that firm footing, even if I am able to grab hold of something to stop my quick descent, I do not always get that assurance that my arms will do as good a job as my feet in establishing stability. Now if we spent more time hanging out in trees as we do standing on solid ground, it might be a different story. But as it is, I do prefer my feet firmly planted on a stable surface, despite the thought in the back of my head that the earth’s crust is really just a thin film of loose rocks and dirt floating on the surface of a bottomless cauldron of molten lava. (Try not to think of that.)
But I can very much appreciate that awesome sensation of the vastness of the view from a great height. If the ascent involved stairs of any kind, it feels good to know that I can rest my weary legs, that the air is cooler and fresher up there, and that there’s a fantastic view to enjoy that I will always remember. I have stood on the observation deck of the Empire State building and the World Trade Center in New York City, the Space Needle in Seattle, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, the northern bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Sydney Tower in downtown Sydney, the London Eye and the bell tower of Westminster Cathedral in London, and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I have looked out an airplane window upon the Rockies out west, the mountains of Eastern Canada, the Apennines in Italy, the Alps in France, the Remarkables in New Zealand, and the Great Dividing Range in Eastern Australia. All I can say is “Wow!” A view like any of those will take your breath away.
The awesome sensation atop a great height will always make me reflect a little deeper. At that height I often get a stronger sense of closeness to God. Now I do not insist that heaven is physically up there. I do know heaven is not necessarily a physical place. Heaven is being with God. But if I experience a greater closeness to God when on a great height, then I imagine there is something about it that is like heaven. The bible tells us that many people encountered God on mountaintops. I know the feeling. I am drawn to prayer and to thoughts of my own insignificance before God when I stand on a great height. I find that I am more open to hear what God has to tell me. I feel God’s presence more tangibly in ways difficult to describe. My fingertips feel tingly. I take deeper and longer breaths. My vision and hearing seem more acute–probably because oxygen is thin. And if allowed, I will try to stay up there as long as I can.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain one fine day, and “while he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Now this mountain, Tabor, which Christians identify as the mountain of transfiguration, sits alone in the lower plains of Galilee, 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee, at about 1800+ feet, and no other mountains nearby. I’m sure the view alone is beyond impressive. So then Moses and Elijah appeared to converse with Jesus about what he was to undertake in Jerusalem. Now picture Peter, James, and John just completely beside themselves. Peter even began babbling about setting up three tents, they were so shaken. But Jesus was accustomed to praying on mountaintops, and conversing with his Father about his day, his concerns, and the mission entrusted to him. This time he is seen talking to two of Israel’s most important historical figures. Jesus saw the road ahead on his journey to Jerusalem. Perhaps he needed someone else’s perspective to guide him forward. If Jesus was overwhelmed with the thought of his approaching passion, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem, perhaps Moses and Elijah helped to put it all in a larger context. He wasn’t doing it for himself. He was doing it for Peter, James, and John. They had to see him pause on the journey, and reflect on the gravity of his mission. No doubt Jesus knew what he had to do. He just needed to show us he was embracing God’s plan knowingly and freely. He was setting an example for us to follow.
Abram was also overwhelmed with God’s promise of descendants too many to count. At the moment, he had none. So while he fell into a trance, God appeared in fire and smoke to establish a covenant with him. The experience must have been terrifying and comforting at the same time, something only God could pull off. But it helped Abram stay the course. In fulfilling his great plan of salvation, God would much prefer willing participants. God isn’t into twisting arms. But he does make a compelling case.
St. Paul often writes with great passion about what he believes. When he pleads with the Christian community to the point of tears, we know he is not concerned about what anyone thinks. He instructs us to imitate his example, and those like himself who live in the knowledge and conviction that “our citizenship is in heaven.” There are those who “conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.” You know better, that our “savior, the Lord Jesus Christ … [will] change our lowly body to conform to his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. … Therefore, [you] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, … stand firm in the Lord.” He must have seen the road ahead, trial and persecution for the church, imprisonment and martyrdom for himself. But his communion with God in prayer gave him strength to enable him to embrace willingly his role in God’s plan. It may not have happened on a mountaintop, but he saw it all clearly and distinctly. And he did not turn away.
When we pause on our journey to stand on a mountaintop, we might be able to see how things may unfold up ahead. If we know God is with us on the mountaintop, we will at least know we don’t walk the journey alone. God walks with us. So every so often, take in a mountaintop view. It will definitely take your breath away. And it will give you the strength you need to keep on keeping on.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016