Moses was a mountain climber. He climbed the Arabian height and made his way back down holding large pieces of engraved stone. He climbed a number of times, perhaps trying different routes. Out of breath, out of sight, he was there for days. For days alone on a crag splitting heaven open wide, its glories spilling out onto the lone climber. He returned on one occasion with a glory soaked face.
Everything is a mountain to my son, everything an ascent. He’s lying down reaching, rolling, drooling. Arms flail, fingers flayed, he tips a red, plastic object at the horizon of his vision. It’s gone. He turns, he groans. Where’s the next hold? He arches his back and twists. His arms and legs go taught. I pull him up by his arms and encourage him. He’s doing very well. Trust your legs, I say. His head wobbles. He’s getting tired. He reaches for my face. He smiles briefly, and his knees give way.
There’s a girl behind the counter. She sells equipment. In a clearing by the keyboard there’s a book on Mt. Rainier. Are you thinking of climbing, we ask her. She nods vigorously and says she’s longed to do the climb alone. My friend encourages her to have someone go along with her. He’s climbed Rainier. She insists that she prefers the solitude and enjoys the personal competition it inspires.
Jesus was a mountain climber and trained his disciples in the skill. The devil drove him to a great height and showed him the kingdoms of the world. Sometimes he climbed mountains to be alone, to rid himself of the multitudes who hounded him. Sometimes he climbed to teach: a couple times he fed the crowds. After having climbed and praying for most of a night, he was betrayed by a friend and arrested on the mountain top. Once he climbed to die.
I’ve never been outside. I’ve never climbed in the wild. All my climbs have been prepackaged inside a large building. I am my son on the floor. A climbing wall is designed to simulate, but its face is layered with many options, many routes. There are huge ‘bomber’ hold routes were the wall all but pulls you to the top. There are tiny squares of block bolted down with pointy edges made for finger tips of steel. Far up, my legs shake; my fingers scream. They refuse to work; they refuse to hold. I throw my arms like grappling hooks against the wall, praying that they’ll find some edge to hold. Gasping, shaking, my eyes peer over the top.
My son bounces. It’s a cross between energy and lack of strength. He has enough energy to climb anything, but he hasn’t smoothed out communication yet with his legs. They do his bidding maybe half the time. So he bounces. He bounces holding to the top of the chest. He stretches, pushing with his feet. His hand flings out lightly, groping for a hold. It finds a suitable edge. He makes it look easy. He bounces, tilting, looking up at me. Then his head veers down to his hold. His gums gnaw the edge of the chest, and he eyes me casually, assuring me that this is part of the plan. This is the route he has chosen.
Moses and Aaron died on mountain tops. They climbed their last ascents with sweat in their eyes. Aaron gave his priestly garments to his son on Mount Hor and there he died, in thin air, watching the world below. From the peak of Pisgah, Moses saw the promised land stretching out and meeting heaven. But where he’s buried no one knows, hid in a valley. When he wakes up there’ll be climbing to do.
The Church is a mountain called Zion. We were a rock made without hands. But we were flung into a statue and grew up. There was another mountain, but it fell into the sea. We are mountains climbing mountains. We are an entire range. We go piggyback on the ones who came before, and others will come after us. We are alone and together. We’re grasping at the peak; we’re rolling on the floor. We are hanging by a finger tip; our roots are beneath the sea. Everything’s a mountain to us. We’re bouncing, and we’re holding on. And heaven spills out onto our faces.