I once decided to take a date—yes, a date—to Yosemite National Park (in California) and attempt the second hardest hike there—6.2 miles to the top of Yosemite Falls. The best way to accomplish this task is to be fit, prepared, have a plan, be in good company and get motivated! On this particular day, I thought to myself, I had all the right elements of a successful undertaking (The prophet Elijah would be proud of my “do not be afraid” perspective). In my mind, we are going to do this! And, what a cool way to get to know somebody I care about.
The hike gets difficult right way. Over a mile of switchbacks elevate us quickly. Smart people start early because as soon as the sun rises, it gets hot – real hot. Dehydration is a hiker’s nightmare. At the first vista that opened up to an amazing view of Yosemite Valley, my lady-friend says to me, “It’s getting pretty hot, and we don’t have much water; maybe we should rest here a bit, head back down and spend the rest of the day walking around?” Decision time! Do I agree with her, or do I motivate her!?! I choose motivation! I say, “We can do this, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Let’s keep going!” A little while later, the hike and temperature keep getting worse. Our water is also running out. I keep motivating us to the top. We can do this! At a certain point, we have to borrow water from other hikers that are passing us. Eventually, we are barely speaking, and we are not turning back, either. We keep going, and going. We can finally see the top, but it is still over a mile away…up! Finally, 6.2 very long miles later…we get to the top. She breaks down crying, exhausted—spent. And what do I do? What does the motivator, the date-planner, the let’s-bond-hiking-together-in-Yosemite-guy do at this critical moment? I decide to go swimming! Yes, while she gathers herself, I notice people are safely swimming in the amazing calm and crisp sierra waters that are just a 75-feet- away drop over the falls!
This, obviously, is not the best idea from a dating perspective, but it is HOT! And, I am spent too. We had reached the Promised Land; I was going swimming! I dump everything (backpack, shirt, watch, hat, shoes, wallet, date), and jump in! I have to say, it was amazing. All things considered, it was a just end to a ridiculous, sad attempt at amateur hiking and even more amateur relationship building! I honestly never felt such healing water! Eventually, I get out, pick up my things and reconnect with my guest. She’s eating, we share lunch, and I apologize for the disaster-of-a-date this hike became; there is no redeeming myself, however. We realize we have to get down the hill; it’s getting late and we don’t want to hike in the dark. We leave. The climb down is just as bad as the climb up. It is still hot; we have to keep borrowing water. Again, we stop talking and just keep going and going…down, down. Finally, we get to the valley floor! In so many ways, we are done. We are sitting on the ground next to my car, just resting. I say, “Okay, let’s get out of here and head home—Let me get my keys! [I look for them, but can’t seem to find them.] I guess they’re in my backpack! [NOPE] I’m sure they’re here somewhere…. [NOPE]!!!!!” The look on my date’s face is the worst look of the day–complete disappointment and frustration and anger. I HAD LEFT MY KEYS AT THE TOP OF YOSEMITE FALLS! 6.2 MILES UP! AND 6.2 MILES BACK. There is no going back though. In spite of an already terrible day, I left the most important thing on top of the mountain. I was so self-absorbed in my pursuit of getting to the top that I completely neglected my friend, and also the keys to getting where I needed to go – home!
This story is just a story, an event; something that really happened. (We got the car started, by the way. Someone in a nearby camp site hotwired it for us, and we left). But it is also a reflection of this Sunday’s reading, when we consider a few things.
Key number one—sometimes we are so busy thinking about ourselves, we forgot to listen to those around us. I believe we are afraid, actually, to be humble. Elijah’s message “Do not be afraid” in the first reading is one of the most common phrases we hear Jesus say in the gospels. Pope John Paul II was also good at repeating these words to the Church. I think Elijah, Jesus and the Holy Father all knew something we sometimes forget—we need each other, and we’re not alone! But sometimes we act foolish, and it shows. Key number two—connecting to God conquers fear. Following, not always leading, turns fear into favor—God’s favor! And this is why we should bust out in praise with our whole life (like the psalm)! The Lord is taking care of things despite our reluctance to cling to the Creator of the Universe—Jesus, the one true healer—the quintessential hiker! Not a single believer goes through life without realizing, from time to time, how vulnerable we are, and how great is our God! When we do embrace the Lord, the Lord embraces us; and different, and often better, things happen. Key number three—everyone has something to offer, and we might need what they have! It’s not an accident that the gospel has the poorest, most frail person give an offering (and, what very little she had)—that’s us!!! We are the poorest, the weakest, the most stubborn; but God made us, and God knows we are a gift. Did you hear that? We are GIFTS!
The Kingdom of God gains something when we give who we are and what we have for the benefit of others. We are called to this kind of life—to understand that all of humanity is a blessing, and we are shareholders in the responsibility of demonstrating God’s love in the world. It doesn’t matter how little you have to offer – offer it! I do not have to ask you to go hiking to learn these things. Life is enough. Look at the world you are in every day—school, family, friends, work, sports, chores and just walking down the street or watching TV. All the evidence you need to listen, follow and act is there. When you climb the mountains of your everyday life, just say to yourself, “I have something to offer and ‘do not be afraid’”. [Oh, and don’t forget your keys!]