Thursday 26 February 2015

The Three Peaks of Spiritual Challenge

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Lent 2B: The Three Peaks Spiritual Challenge

A mountain climber once shared with me, that 'mountain climbing' for him was a transcendent experience. He went on to say that the experience helped him to transcend the limitation of his fears, and discover his strength and endurance. The New Zealand mountain climber Sir Edmund Hillary said, 'It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.' In scripture, mountains have a long tradition of religious significance, being regarded as places where God could be encountered. It seems that from mountaintops, God reveals to humans the divine will and human limitations. The mountain can also be a place where an individual can discover the divine heights to which the human spirit can soar.

What every human heart longs for is to see God, but no one can see God's face and live (Ex 33:20). So the closest the patriarchs like Abraham, Moses or Elijah could come, was to transcend their human limitations, by climbing a mountain, where God could allow them a glimpse of divine glory. Our scripture readings for this week, call us and show us how to be mountain climbers. With God's grace, we are enabled to conquer something in ourselves as we climb each peak, so that, from each mountaintop, we can see something of God's glory.

The first peak challenge is Mt Moriah, which Abraham climbs (Genesis 22:1-2,9-13,15-18) at God's request. Those who have done this climb say Mt Moriah is an arduous, agonizing climb. Abraham takes with him his only son, whom God had promised and whom has asked Abraham to offer back in sacrifice. In climbing, Abraham conquers his fears and doubts, and discovers the depths of his faith, which transcends his human resistance to trusting God. On this mountain, he learns to trust in God, whom he knows by deep faith to be all goodness. On this mountain, Abraham has to trust that God is faithful to his word, and worthy of trust. As a result, Abraham's experience on Mt Moriah stands for the virtue of faith which is given, so that one can see God's faithful providence. In our Mt Moriah experiences we learn that God never abandons us even in our greatest agony and deepest sorrow. We learn what St Pauls writes; "With God on our side who can be against us." (Romans 8:31-34) or as the psalmist prays; "I trusted (GOD) even when I said: 'I am sorely afflicted" (Psalm115:10). Such a capacity for trust is the result of cultivated deep faith.

The second peak challenge is Mt Tabor, which Jesus climbs with his closest friends, Peter, James, and John. There, they are allowed a peek of Christ's divine glory. Occasionally in our Christian walk we experience moments of such grace and joy, in the company of our friends, that we wish it did not end. I have found many occasions during celebrations of the Eucharist to be like this, when God's presence and glory seems tangible. For a moment, one transcends present anxiety and stress, and enjoys a foretaste of heaven. Such experiences help us see in the distance the destination of life's journey, which is to be raised to new life with Christ, and to ever enjoy his friendship in the glory of heaven. Mt Tabor stands for the virtue of hope which helps us to keep God's glory and our final end in sight. We need hope in those times when we are plunged into difficult and challenging circumstances. In the darkness we may not be able to see Christ, but, with hope, we can hear God's voice penetrating our fear saying - 'listen to Jesus, my beloved child' (Mark 9:2-10), who is 'a lamp for your feet and a light for your path' (Ps 119:105).

The third peak challenge is Mt Calvary which is hinted at in today's Gospel when Jesus says; "... tell no one what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." It is on Calvary that Jesus mounts the Cross alone. As Christ's disciples we are called by his grace to follow after him. This journey, involves sacrifice and wounds, and it leaves us vulnerable. On Calvary, God's love is revealed to us in the flesh. This ultimate climb stands for the virtue of love, which enables us to conquer our prideful-selfishness and fears. When we reach the summit of Calvary we are finally fulfill our hearts desire to see God. It is at the cross that we see God, face-to-face in the Crucified One. Such a vision enables us to become transfigured though our loving selfless service in union with Him who gave his all. On Calvary, we learn that 'God is Love', and that in union with Christ who became our suffering servant, we can transcend the limitations of our human nature. Mounts Moriah, Tabor, and Calvary are our 'The Three Peaks Spiritual Challenge' not just for lent but for the whole of our lives. Our Christian spiritual mountain adventure will exceed what any other mountaineering challenge this world has to offer, simply because, its reward is out of this world!