Years ago, I was in Whitehorse when some acquaintances suggested an afternoon hike up one of the local mountains. I went along, imagining a well-groomed trail with built-in steps and handrails. I was in no condition for the steep and rocky climb that unfolded.
By the time we reached the summit, I was winded, shaky and nursing a painful twinge in my hip. I barely had a chance to catch my breath when the others announced that they always run back down the mountain, in case grizzlies are in the area. Off they dashed, out of sight within moments. I limped behind, terrified the whole way down.
That mountain climb offered no great spiritual insights (except perhaps that a true friend doesn’t leave you to be eaten by bears). But another mountaintop was more of a religious experience for me. It was Jordan’s Mount Nebo, famous for being the site of the penultimate scene in the Bible’s Exodus story.
Moses has been leading the Israelites through the desert for 40 years when he climbs to the top of Nebo. There, God shows him a view of the Promised Land, but adds: “You will not cross over into it.” This is God’s punishment for Moses’ disobedience — the sins of ego and lack of faith. Moses dies soon after, and the Israelites press on. When I visited Mount Nebo a few years ago, the hazy view of rolling hills led me to reflect on how easily ego and doubt can get in the way of living up to our full potential.
More on Broadview: 5 mountain climbers reveal what they learn on the ascent
Mountains, and the human impulse to ascend their summits, offer so many metaphors for life’s challenges that they can almost feel clichéd, like an office inspirational poster. But in this month’s cover story, writer Amy van den Berg asks five climbers what it’s really like to reach a summit. For those who’ve been there, no pithy adage can capture the spiritual lessons learned at 8,000 metres above sea level.
Stories in this issue tackle metaphorical mountains as well. Writer Trisha Elliott travels emotional peaks and valleys after a DNA test leads her to her biological family. The family of Soleiman Faqiri, who had mental health issues and died in jail, navigates systemic mountains. And a group of Canadian young adults travel to Israel and the West Bank to learn about the political mountains facing Israelis and Palestinians.
Whatever mountains are looming for you in 2020, metaphorical or otherwise, I hope our stories give you the needed courage and inspiration to face them head-on. May you have good friends climbing beside you on the ascent — and grizzly-free travels down the other side.
This editorial first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Broadview with the title “New heights.”
Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.