Tuesday, August 12, 2014

High points at the Highpoint

So what does a friar actually do after making his final vows? Does he go to Disney World? A Yankees game? Does he go on pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi? Is a cross country road-trip in order? Cliff jumping in Chile? Well, in this friar's case he went and stood on top of Idaho. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Mt. Borah, boasting the highest peak in the state at 12,655 ft. above sea level, taunted my father and I with a steep hike, barely any trace of a trail and rock scrambles and climbs making it the sixth most difficult highpoint climb in the states. Going up was hard and coming down wasn't really any easier.

Can you remember any mountain-top scenes in the scriptures? Think of Moses, Elijah, even Noah had Ararat, or of the Lord's great Sermon, Mount Zion and of course Peter, James and John on the recently celebrated Mount of the Transfiguration. All of these mountain-top experiences are places where God is encountered. Whether it's as a gentle wind, a place of rest, a tempest or fire, man comes cheek to jaw with the reality of God, and the world after descending is never quite the same for him as it was before. Any real, undeniable encounter with God puts us at a cross roads or before a threshold where we realize that this thing we call religion isn't just a cute little game we're playing, but this God of ours exists outside of the inside of our heads, and usually that's either consoling or terrifying or maybe--eventually--both!

I think of the three apostles who were privileged to see our Lord transfigured. Jesus ceased to be the man they always knew and assumed an obviously divine mode of being. "And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light" (Mt. 17:2). Enter Moses and Elijah, and by the time the three descend, I don't think they have any idea what just happened, but very shortly Jesus begins his road to Jerusalem and towards his crucifixion.

None of us live on the mountain top. Our spiritual lives are full of peaks and valleys and like all pilgrims we traverse them with alternating ambition and futility, but when God gives us a healthy dose of Himself, a real encounter with his divine Godhead, we can not afford to forget that. We have to remember. I think that St. John--during our Lord's passion--must have never forgot the transfiguration. I think his memory of Christ in all his divine glory was a source of strength as he, alone of the apostles, followed Jesus closely throughout his passion and death, through that long Saturday following sustaining him with hope until the Resurrection. The experience of the mountain has to be remembered in the valley, dwelled upon, processed and digested into fuel for the road ahead.

Of course, we don't have to actually go up a mountain to have this kind of encounter of God, but it might help sometimes. What was my mountain-top experience this go-around? Nothing dramatic, and yet I did feel amazingly small. Smaller than an ant. The farms (circular for the irrigation systems) were the size of frisbees. The stark, brown earth looked desolate and unforgiving, and God became immense! God was big and far reaching, and I was small and frail, and this is a helpful perspective.

+ Br. Joseph Michael Fino, CFR
Bronx, NY
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