During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
A number of years ago, while I was a staff member at a UCC summer camp in New Hampshire, I was tasked with being the hike leader for a group of middle school campers summiting their first 4,000-footer.
We were assigned Wildcat D, one of five peaks of the popular ski mountain. I had the map, the guidebooks, and a few years experience of hiking in the White Mountains. No one currently on staff, however, had hiked that particular mountain. A few had skied it before, but you don’t hike a mountain like that with skis under your arms. That’s why God invented chair lifts.
Of course, halfway up the bare rock scrambles that led to Wildcat E (the first subpeak), I found myself questioning the vetting process that goes into selecting guidebook authors. The kids were overwhelmed, not expecting the “trail” to be quite so steep and the drop quite so visible. More than that, Wildcat E wasn’t marked! I don’t know if that’s changed in the years since, but to this day I have no idea when we hit it. Even after the scramble of the ascent was over and we were back under trees hiking the ridgeline toward Wildcat D, it was hard to tell if that hump we just went over was the peak, or if the next one was higher still. Was it far behind us now, or still to come?
The two other adults and I consulted the map often, trying to boost our kids’ morale with a visible gauge of our progress, but without any viewpoints or landmarks or intersections in the one-way trail it was kind of a guessing game. “Maybe that’s the left turn we just took?”
Long story short, we made it to the chair lifts. Wildcat D at last, and a well-marked summit to boot. But we came so close to turning around several times because of how much the trail had psyched out our hikers! The only thing keeping us going was blind trust in guidebooks and a map, which promised us that sooner or later deliverance would come. We had done the prep, we had our instructions, and we knew (sort of) what to expect. It was just a matter of making it there without any mile markers. In the end, the sudden reveal surprised us, and all hope and joy and light returned to the world! It was like the Sound of Music, all the kids running into the grass and spinning about and collapsing in the sunlight.
A few weeks later, on a day off, two other staff members asked me if I’d like to join them on a hike to Wildcat A. I had never made it that far of course, but I knew part of the path pretty well. For the rest we had guidebooks, a map, and the promise of deliverance.
They’d gotten me this far.
Exercise: Draw the top of the mountain you’re climbing right now. What will it look like when you get there?
Prayer: God, help me to trust your guidance, and help me trust myself to figure it out. Amen.
Song I’m listening to these days: “True North,” by Bad Religion.
Together, we can bring Christ's word and work to the world.