Earlier this week, after the storm, I headed north to hike Moriah.
The list left for my December Grid is long, a function of a busy school month, family obligations, and, of course, winter.
While chipping away at the peaks on The Grid can sometimes be a haphazard pursuit – when choosing hikes, I must weigh time I have left in the day, my energy level, weather, and countless other factors – there are always a few targeted mountains I strive to finish in that given year. I haven’t even begun to really tackle the Big Boys, so I know it’s still a while before I get to 576.
On the way, though, Moriah is one of my recently targeted peaks, and having taken nearly three weeks off since completing my last November climb, I was anxious to get up there and check ‘er off.
I had an early morning appointment at the dealership to fix a recall on the car, so a late start was inevitable. Still, I arrived at the trailhead earlier than most days, when I typically rush out after teaching my last class, resigned to finishing in the dark.
People had packed down the snow up to Mt. Surprise, about the halfway point, but the trail ended there.
So. Much. Snow.
Nothing to do but push on.
Hours passed as I tracked my “progress” on CalTopo. Drifts were so deep on the steeps that I found myself belly-crawling, military style, just to gain a few yards. It was brutal work, and I realized late in the afternoon, with maybe a mile still to go, that there was no way I was summiting.
Disappointed didn’t even come close to how I felt; I had spent hours in the car and on the slope, December was spilling away, and I was no closer to checking off Moriah than had I stayed home.
I had no choice but to turn back.
Cloud and tree and light danced on the way down, easing the sting, so by the time I got back to car and kicked off the shoes, the glum had lifted. I had turned back, but I was still alive, awash in beauty, and there was a McDonalds a mile up the road. Might as well celebrate the effort.
A different Moriah was the site of another turn-back, long years ago; God had commanded Abraham to “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)
Isaac was the son of promise, the one through whom God was going to build his big beautiful family, the one born to Abraham and his wife Sarah well past child bearing age, their darling, their only, their love.
And yet, without even arguing (AreyousureGod?), Abraham got up early the next morning, saddled his donkey, and took along two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had designated.(Genesis 22:3)
That place was Moriah, and I wonder how many times, on the way, Abraham longed to turn back. To question whether he had heard God correctly, or whether, if he had, this God was someone he could trust. Or even wanted to.
As I enter my 60th year, I consider all the times I’ve trudged toward mountains I never wanted to climb, questioning, questioning, questioning, questioning:
God, are you sure?
How can I know?
Can I trust you?
We cannot fathom, King Solomon writes, what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
How can we?
We only see this small little piece of his big big plan.
Looking back across the decades, I no longer recognize the angry, selfish, willful, reckless girl I once was.
Those things still hide in my heart and rise, unbidden, if I do not set my feet, do not fix my eyes. It’s a battle to beat them down, beat them down, keep beating them down until there is nothing left but a filmy thinness.
This older self still waits and struggles, weeps and sighs, but I am more myself than I ever was. Like Abraham, I am tempted to turn back, but Moriah lies ahead. And you never know what happen next.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” God told Abraham as he aimed the knife. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:12-14)
I imagine Abraham’s soul expanding as he turned back toward home, clean-bladed with breath-filled son. Forever to be known as the father of faith.
Abraham’s faith in God and God’s in him; I doubt he doubted ever again.
Later in the week, I checked two other peaks off the December list. I wasn’t ready, yet, to try for Moriah again. Didn’t want to face another turning back.
I’m coming to terms with the years I have left, however many they may be. I passed what could be the halfway point a decade ago, and I’m trusting the God who might have other plans for my Moriah.
My soul continues to expand as I walk toward home, full of breath and joy and hope.