There are those moments when people crossover from one way of living to another. Some Celtic Christians refer to the membrane that seems to separate us from the Kingdom of God, which seems thinner in some places than in others. Some today speak of a "breakthrough." But whatever language one might use, it is describing an experience of movement from one reality to another, the result of which, quite often, is a life that is never the same.
In comparison to the Kingdom of God, mountain climbing is small potatoes, even mundane fare. However, it is in climbing that I often watch movement occurring in people, movement that is like what happens in relationship with God. And it is breathtaking when it comes.
For example, two weeks ago, a group of men came out from Kansas City, where I used to live. They came as an extension of a ministry I helped form in our six years out there, in which we pursued the summits of mountains as the environment in which to build closer relationships between men, teach mountaineering skills, help men get into better physical lifestyles of exercize and eating, and to encounter God. So, nineteen men arrived in Georgetown, CO, where I joined them for a day, in order to climb Mt.Evans, a 14er (summit above 14,000 feet). And as we made our way up a winsome route that goes up over Mt. Spalding (13,850), we came to a "fork in the road." One way traverses across to the summit, mostly staying low and safe. The other way is actually a Class 3 rock scramble without markers (cairns), with some exposure off the north side, and with a few places where it's no longer about walking - it's actually about finding the right hand and foot holds.
Well, a man and his two grown sons went up the Class 3 direction, and two men who have had no real experience with this sort of route turned to the team leader and asked if they could go that way, too. I chimed in, "I'll go with them." And so, off we went, picking our way up and through granite rock formations. . . until we got to this one slab that would have to be scaled. It was about 15 feet long, sloping fairly precipitously, with a few limited toeholds and handholds, and with the reality of a major dropoff to our left a few feet away. The two men for whom this was new territory did not hesitate. They threw themselves at the slab, leveraging their bodies up and over the top in a matter of minutes.
And when I got to the top of it myself, I heard in their voices and then I saw in their eyes that something had changed. There was a gleam in their eyes, like what has happened in my eyes on more than one occasion. They were excited and thrilled, filled with a surge of confidence that drives fear back. They had started to believe in their ability to not only use their bodies in ways they had never done before, but also to manage fear. It was electric, and the other three of us could feel it from them.
They had moved from one way of seeing things to another.
And as they surged across that 1/4 mile long ridge, with big air to their left and the world at their feet, their joy sang in all of us. And I knew right then, even as I remember so well when it first hit me on September 28th, 1991, on Wetterhorn Peak, that they will never be the same again.
Dear God, how I love climbing. Thank You, thank You, THANK YOU to let me see men and women, boys and girls "get it."