A fear of heights

Readings for February 25, 2018

Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
Psalm 116
Romans 8:31-34
Mark 9:2-10


Once, while vacationing in Colorado, my family and I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park. At the top of the mountain, my wife perched the kids on a rock next to a sign boasting of peak’s great height and asked me to snap their picture. While they were clearly a safe distance from the side of the mountain, as I looked through the lens of the camera I could see my daughters but there was no visible ground behind them, only a distant mountain. It spooked me and I could not take the picture. I was ready to return to the car and drive, slowly and carefully, back down the mountain. My fear limited our entire “tour” of the park to a drive up the mountain, a short stop, and a drive back down. I saw the glory and grandeur of this great height and it scared me.

James, John, and Peter also felt fear on the mountaintop. The sight of Jesus transfigured, the vision of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God made them tremble with fear. They knew they had seen the glory of God and it scared them. Even so, they wanted to stay on the mountain, saying, “Rabbi, it is good we are here! Let us make three tents!” They were in the presence of God. “In the land of the living.” However, Jesus essentially tells them, “OK, you’ve seen the Glory of God (don’t tell anyone, by the way). Now let’s go back down the mountain and into our daily lives.”

To make matters worse, a few verses later in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “The son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him.” For their part, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them, and they were too afraid to ask (9:31-32). Imagine their fear—they had just seen Jesus in his glory, heard the voice of God, and now Jesus says, “Guys, they’re gonna kill me when we get to Jerusalem. So let’s get going.” They couldn’t fathom what that meant and they couldn’t seek out an answer because fear clouds understanding and refuses to seek clarity.

Abraham likely also felt a touch of fear as he ascended Mount Moriah. Abraham feared following God’s instruction to sacrifice his beloved son. Doing so would certainly have dashed the promise of God that the birth of his son would establish a great nation. But Abraham trusted God. And God, of course, held true to His promise, telling Abraham, “I will bless you abundantly … because you obeyed my command.”

In my own small way, I understand their fear. I truly believe that as I read the bible, particularly as the stories are laid out in the daily readings of the Catholic Church, I have been allowed a glimpse of God’s glory. Beginning just a few years ago, after a lifetime of believing and praying and practicing my faith, God touched my heart and said, “Read My book.” I had participated in bible studies and read scripture and attended retreats and done Lectio Divina in the past. All have been helpful. But as I began exploring the daily readings, things began to make sense as they never had before. I began to see God’s glory unfolding before me. It has taken me to the mountaintop. And it scared me.

I knew as soon as I began to understand what I was reading that I needed to share what God was revealing to me. I thumbed a few simple reflections into my phone and would share them on occasion with select family members. I floundered in fear and lack of understanding for a couple of years before deciding to consider a way to share my revelations within God’s Word. My wife suggested I start a blog as a fruitful way to share His glory. I had no idea what that meant or how to do that, so I was skeptical of the idea. Yet, with each revelation from scripture I felt the pull to write. And with each word I wrote and considered sharing, I felt fear. Such has been the pattern of my faith—experience, see the glory of God, get scared, and, essentially, crash. Fear has clouded my understanding and kept me from seeking clarity.

I am comforted by the belief that my own roller-coaster pattern must in some way reflect what the disciples felt after the transfiguration of Christ, and then through his death and resurrection. They saw his glory, and then they descended the mountain and moved toward Jesus’ ultimate death on the cross. The lesson, I think, is that I must trust in both the revelation of His glory and the reality of everyday life. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Starting Reflections from the Pew and writing a reflection each week is my means of overcoming the paralyzing effects of fear and trusting in God. Still, each time I click “publish” on the upper right portion of my screen, there is a tinge of fear. Perhaps it is a fear that I am not genuinely sharing God’s glory, seeking instead my own glory. Or perhaps I fear I will lose my mountaintop, this connection and glimpse and moment that I thought I had with Him. And maybe that fear will never go away. Maybe that’s what having a fear of God means, because in faith I know that I am sharing His glory and I want to do right by His Word.

My fear reminds me that I need to trust in God. Whatever comes and goes in my life, Jesus walks with me at all times, leading me both to the mountaintop and through the unknown. I have seen his glory. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a speech in 1968, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” If God is with me, and Jesus intercedes for me, who can prevail against me?

My Lord Jesus, I know you have walked my path long before I have. You have suffered for my love and died for my salvation. You are with me now. Thank you for showing me your glory. Cast out of me all fear except the fear of not doing the will of the Father. In all things may I seek, understand, and act on His will. I ask this in your name. Amen

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