Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Mountain of the Lord

The Psalmist asks, "How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me?"  I echo that question.  How indeed?  This year I had the opportunity to once again travel to the American West with Wilderness Outreach on an expedition to build and repair hiking trails.

Mt. Shinn & Lake Florence
The trip this year took me to the High Sierra Mountain Range in California.  It was one of the most demanding and physically difficult things I have ever done in my life.  With a 7+ mile hike in and a climb of nearly 3000' in elevation, the work seemed easy in comparison to the hike.

This trip was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I went on the trip looking for God, asking Him to reveal Himself to me.  In the end, I realized that it was He calling me to this far away place so that He might reveal me to myself.  As the Second Vatican Council put it, "Christ..., fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear." (Gaudium et Spes 22)  I learned that the problem is not that I don't understand or know God very well but rather that I don't know myself well enough.  He brought me to the mountains to reveal to me my weaknesses, my faults, my sins, and how He wants to heal them.

It was through this trip, this work, these hikes, this physical adventure that God taught me about my spiritual life.  I learned that the spiritual life is like life on the trail.  As the trail has steep, difficult terrain, so does the spiritual life.  It is during times of suffering and struggle that I am ascending toward God, toward the heights of Heaven.  It is often during times of laziness, and seeking an easy way out that I am descending away from God, away from the heights of sanctity.  I learned that just as the views on the trail (pictures below) are not given but must be earned.  Ascending to the God is not given, it must be earned.  

John Bradford of Wilderness Outreach 
Now, please don't misunderstand.  All that God gives is a free gift.  Grace is a free gift just as the mountains are a free gift.  Both are there for me but there is no easy shortcut.  I cannot parachute onto the top of a mountain and feel as though I belong there.  I cannot say a simple prayer and feel as though I deserve eternity with God.  God is a loving father and as such He demands that I grow, mature, struggle, fight, and become strong. The Psalmist points this out in many places, "LORD, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy mountain?  Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart; Who does not slander with his tongue, does no harm to a friend, never defames a neighbor; Who disdains the wicked, but honors those who fear the LORD; Who keeps an oath despite the cost, lends no money at interest, accepts no bribe against the innocent" (Psalm 15)  The mountain of the Lord in the Psalm is a free gift, but only those who meet the requirements can accept that gift.

Another thing I learned on the trail is that God wants me to accept that He allows those struggles to come my way.  In the book, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Caussade mentions a phrase that stuck with me during my trip, "Living the sacrament of the moment."  This helped me realize that God's grace is pouring on me like a constant rain every moment of my life.  Sometimes the rain makes me miserable, sometimes it fills me with joy.  So it is with God's grace.  His providence may, at times, make me miserable, like when I am suffering.  Living the sacrament of the moment helps me realize that though I may be suffering, it wouldn't be happening if God didn't will it for my salvation.  As Fr. Caussade says elsewhere, "What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could ever happen to us."
I could go on about the lessons learned on the trail but I will save those for another time.  For now, I'll share the beauty that God gave to us during that week.  How shall I repay the Lord?  I really don't know.  I guess I can start by reminding myself daily of the difficult but worthwhile lessons learned so that I don't slide back down the mountain.

Me at 10,000'
Sally Keyes Lakes

Marie Lakes looking north from Selden Pass

Daily Mass on the mountain.

1 comment:

vincent said...

I don't know but I think it actually could make your eyes hurt to see beauty like this! Wonderful pictures!

Mother's Day Weekend.