I have a confession. I live in the mountains, and I love them, but I am afraid of heights. I’m a valley dweller. I prefer to look up at lofty mountain grandeur. Looking down makes me feel, well, uneasy, to say the least.
Some people who come here from sea-level cities also find themselves a little out of breath, even in the valleys, but for different reasons. It takes a while to adjust to the altitude. On the other hand, when we visited the Dead Sea area in Israel, which is well below sea level, I was amazed at the way I could scramble around on the rocks without becoming tired. My body had been trained simply by living on a higher plane.
Many of our friends are mountain climbers, including several who climbed Crowsnest mountain recently (the one pictured here.) My brother is a well-known climber who lives near Banff. I’m content to admire their drive, look at their photos and listen to their stories.
One story my brother tells is about the time he paired up with another climber to scale one of the highest mountains in the province on one of those rare days when its peak was not in the clouds. His friend had climbed many times before, but not quite that high, and not quite that fast. Neither of them expected that he would get altitude sickness. My brother said his friend began to act as if he were drunk. That’s when he knew he needed to help him back down -very carefully. The descent took longer than expected and they had to bivouac on the side of the mountain overnight. That means they secured their sleeping bags to stakes pounded into the sheer face of the mountain and tried to get some sleep -whilst one of them was exhausted and the other was impaired. Fun times.
Like I said, I prefer valley living. But in our spiritual lives sometimes God calls us to come up higher and see things from his perspective. Jesus took Peter, James and John on a mountain climbing trip when he wanted to let them in on some inside information.
“Come up here,” He told John later in a vision on the isle of Patmos, “I want to show you something.” And he did.
Mountain top experiences can be a little disorienting. Not only are we not accustomed to the perspective, we are not used to the altitude. It takes some time to adjust. We are meant to live at altitude -after all Paul tells us in Ephesians that we who have been adopted into the family of God are seated in high places with Christ. He calls us to come up higher and get his perspective, but sometimes it’s a little disorienting for valley dwellers. Sometimes we feel out of breath, our ears feel the pressure, our brains can’t keep up; some people feel downright panicky or sick for a time. The climb to higher ground can be frankly uncomfortable and even scary, so the Lord provides resting places along the way where we can take time to adjust, but soon he calls us to keep moving to higher ground -because he has something to show us we could not see any other way.
I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.
from “Higher Ground” by Johnson Oatman