Climbing El Capitans

El Capitan

“Solo Climber With No Ropes Tops El Capitan”

So reads the headline describing 31-year-old Alex Honnold’s recent ascent of Yosemite National Park’s massive granite El Capitan. He became the first to climb the daunting obstacle using only his hands and feet. No safety devices or other climbing gear.

The feat is amazing enough but what caught my attention was what preceded the three hour and fifty-six minute climb. While this was a life goal, it was not one undertaken without careful thought and preparation. He first wrote about the potential record-setting climb in his journal in 2009 but repeatedly found reasons to set it aside. In addition to thinking and dreaming about the feat the past two years, he climbed the wall several times with protective gear, “memorizing each hole he had to grab and the way he had to position his body until he felt comfortable enough to attempt the ‘free solo’ climb…even more challenging was overcoming the mental hurdle.”*

In twelve months (God willing!) I will join the ranks of those who check the 80-or-over box on the Sunday church “attendance roster.” The years from today on could be likened to climbing a mountain. What were mere hills in previous years are now El Capitans because of a body naturally aging. (In spite of healthy preventative measures.) While I seem to more often forget names, I’m grateful that God is granting me an active, inquisitive and (usually!) alert mind, one which I “exercise” with the climbing gear of crossword puzzles, in-depth conversations with friends who stimulate my thinking, reading that strains the brain as well as that which deeply satisfies the soul. And some which just provides amusement! Regular physical medical examinations indicate that I’m healthier than most “of my age.” (Don’t you love that phrase??)

Even those younger than I need encouragement for the climb, whether hills or mountains. Over recent months God has been nudging me to alter the focus of this My Monday Moments blog to address that encouragement, as well as other similar topics–some comforting and some perhaps not so!  Stay tuned to this site until you hear how you can log on to the (probable-but-not-yet-set-in-cement!) new title: Old and Growing.

 

 

 

*The Associated Press

 

Mother’s Day Faith

With her soft spring dress and beautiful blond hair, she could have been the “poster mother” on this Sunday Mother’s Day. They came in during the singing of the first song, she gently ushering a young man—probably in his thirties—ahead of her into the seats just in front of me. One glance confirmed that some would identify the young man as “different.” With somewhat vacant eyes, he sat or stood motionless as the service progressed, unresponsive to any stimuli.

One of the songs had the repeated phrase, He is good, God is good and I watched her quietly wipe tears first from one eye, then another as she sang. Soon she joined the congregation in singing the next song, the Chris Tomlin lyrics,

You’re a good, good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s whom I am, it’s who I am. 

Some might find the repetition tasteless but as this beautiful mature woman sang, she seemed to want the words to ring out forever. More tears, her right hand lightly resting on her unresponsive son’s shoulder and her left hand raised high in praise. It was obvious to any who looked carefully that she sang the familiar words with a full heart—perhaps a broken heart?—a heart joyfully choosing to believe that God is good.

A good, good Father? If this was a birth child, how many days or weeks or months went by before the diagnosis? What did she protect him from? How did she prepare him for the life ahead? Does she have other children? If not, was it upon this one child that her dreams were shaped differently than she ever imagined?

And through it all she chose to sing from her heart, You’re a good, good Father…and I’m—we’re—loved by you. A picture of Mother’s Day faith.

An Unlikely Meal

Table Before EnemiesWhen thunder rumbles in the distance and once-fluffy clouds turn menacing, the picnic table is cleared, hamburgers carried into the kitchen.

When the thud of bombs and the piercing whistle of gunfire nears the Middle East village, children whimper and people flee.

And yet this astounding word of unexplainable faith from a writer who knew the onslaught of both nature and enemy:

God, my shepherd…you serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies…
(Psalm 23:4 The Message)

How can this assurance be reality for the writer? For me? From his youth David had learned to trust the God of Israel. Early he expressed that trust through action: Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you… His relationship with the Father was so secure he felt the freedom to question: How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? He along with others heard God’s prescription for strength in the midst of storm: Be still, and know that I am God

Yes, our God is strong enough to serve us the delights of life even when the world around crumbles. Calvin Miller best describes these meals:

In this secluded place I meet a King.
He comes alone to drink reality
with me. Sometimes we talk sometimes we sit
and sip a life that passes by the crowd
as inwardness is born—a felted thing
of power—a commonality—
a union where unmended hopes are knit
where silence roars as quiet sings aloud.
Oh Christ, I love it here!
It is our place…*

*From The Table of Inwardness

WATCH FOR CHANGES TO MY MONDAY MOMENTS! COMING SOON….

 

“Christians Are Made of a Different Substance”

Cross in ChurchIt wasn’t a bomb—even “the mother of all bombs—that captivated the television commentator’s attention. It wasn’t the promise of a president or the sight of a goose stepping military phalanx. It wasn’t the sight of parading protestors of even of praying believers. No, the well-known Egyptian Muslim journalist* listened in stunned and rapt silence to the widow of a man killed in recent church bombings. Through her tears, she expressed her faith, her prayer that God would forgive the perpetrators of the tragedy and that she herself forgave them.

He, trained to be an objective observer and reporter of fact, was forced to say with awe in his voice and perplexity on his face, “Egyptian Christians are made of steel…how great is the amount of forgiveness you have…these people have so much forgiveness…if it was my father, I could never say this…these (Christians) are made of a different kind of substance.”

And that’s why we have Easter. That’s why Jesus could say, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” That’s why we are called to proclaim and practice the same forgiveness. Yes, we are “made of a different kind of substance.” The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you (Romans 8:11), and so—impossible as it seems to human understanding—the call upon us is as great as was the call upon Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

*Forgiveness Incarnated on Vimeo

Maundy Thursday

Maunday ThursdayIn three hours we will sit in a quieted church sanctuary preparing for the Maundy Thursday service. This beautiful commemoration of Christ’s meeting with his disciples for the last time before his trial and crucifixion wasn’t a part of my religious tradition, but it has become one of the most meaningful events of my faith walk. Derived from a Latin word meaning command, maundy refers to Jesus’ words as he ate his final meal with his friends: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

He had just demonstrated the culturally astounding kind of love he was talking about when, without fanfare, he carried out the role of the lowest servant in a household: washing the dusty feet of his disciples, even one who would soon deny that he ever knew Jesus and another who would, with a traitor’s kiss, identify this Lord as the one to be crucified.

Last times, events, experiences become especially meaningful after the death of a loved one. “Remember the Christmas when…?” “This would have been his twenty first birthday…” “She always loved going for dinner on our anniversary.” And in the same manner this “last supper” is celebrated around the world among followers of Christ. Not because he is dead but because he lives!

The celebration goes by many names—eucharist, communion, blessing, Lord’s Supper—but when we eat the bread and drink from the cup with a sense of the holy, we are transported back to that upper room where questioning, sorrowful, confused disciples sat with Jesus. He had warned them about what was to come but in no way did they understand the horror that lay ahead. This one last time they gathered with the friend they love and with whom they’d walked for three years.

Tonight we too sit and contemplate–often confused, questioning and sorrowful–this one we love.

Thoughts on Cuba

Cuban FlagShe was once the star of Hollywood and Broadway. Cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped as she strutted down the red carpet. Cosmopolitan and Elle vied for interviews. The White House beckoned and Downing Street looked on in envy.

But the years rolled by and starring roles evaporated. Directors no longer offered supporting roles and bit parts were scorned as beneath her once-grand talent. Flowing gowns of yesteryear found their way to thrift shops where teens bought them as retro and pennies of their value were used to buy her life’s necessities. The face once known as the palette for famed makeup artists was now deeply lined and painted with Walmart lipstick and foundation.

I call this woman Cuba. True, my stay was a mere eight days but first impressions are often indications of reality. Old and famous buildings are slowly being renovated but gaping, pane-free windows still line Old Havana. Artists display their colorful wares on the famous Esplanade along with people of all ages advertising their rooms and apartments for rent or sale. At the pier a gleaming cruise ship is docked at the one terminal in “working order” while other terminals lie vacant and deserted. Two old men slowly pull a cart with a barrel of water to an apartment.

Fresh paint covered the walls of our “three star” hotel, bathroom floor tile appeared new, clean towels were formed into animal shapes and laid on our beds each day. But water flowed with hesitation most days with hot water appearing only occasionally. The one standing lamp remained without a bulb during our stay. Electrical sockets hung from the wall. The unexpected hair dryer roared like a Mack truck when turned on and the aroma of burning electric wires cautioned against its use. Advertised internet service–something also not really expected–was “no longer available.”* But the large flat screen television set worked and we could watch newscasts originating in China and documentaries highlighting the Cuban military. Surprisingly, we even saw snatches of what seemed an American movie from the not-so-distance past. One of many anomalies.

The Christians I met were pray-ers of deep faith. The large churches and small chapels are maintained with pride. Pastors tell of their original call and lifelong commitment to minister in their homeland. (Many endured prison for their convictions.) Congregations of all sizes feed the hungry, clothe the poor and minister to the imprisoned. Neighborhood children are noisy, smiling, active in Sunday School where they find love, the story of Jesus and a small sandwich to sustain them for the day.

Cubans sing and dance with vivacity. Children giggle and play in the city square.  Teenaged girls coyly glance at the handsomest boy in the room.  Boys of all ages dream, eat, sleep and play baseball. But when I asked a knowledgeable friend to describe the dream of most Cuban youth, after extended thought she quietly responded:  “To get off the island.”

Government concerned primarily with pride and politics has clothed once magnificent and beautiful Cuba with worn and patched garments. Promises, like makeup, cover society’s crevices. Can people again be free to pursue their dreams within their own borders? Will families regain their reputation for standing together in strength? Will media be free to broadcast all views? Will Christians be allowed to gather in groups large and small? Will a teenager’s dream be fulfilled on the island?

I don’t know the answer to those questions but I vividly recall watching the gigantic stone wall between West and East Germany be pounded into powder. I heard stories of Christians who wept and prayed for hours in churches lit only by candles for totalitarian regimes to fall. I know of others who lost their lives in the fight for freedom. Can it happen again on an island in the Caribbean?

 

*I was on a humanitarian mission trip to Cuba and so even occasional water was a blessing and clean towels a luxury rarely experienced on similar trips.