Mountains figure prominently in the Bible. Mount Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments; Mount Ararat, where Noah landed safely after the flood; the temple mount in Jerusalem; the sermon on the Mount, where Jesus preached; and of course Calvary, where Jesus died.
Early this week, on tour for my book 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without, I was at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California, helping writers with their story ideas. The conference center is in the midst of the verdant redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains and marked by a cross on the top of the highest hill. So early in the morning, to get some exercise and clear the brain, I ran up the hill, following the twisting and turning trails to the cross.
It seemed like just the right thing to do at the dawn of Holy Week, run to the cross while thinking about Christ’s end. What a brutal story. I thought, as I pushed along the trail in the half-light, of Jesus’ own prayers before he faced the Crucifixion.
Everybody always quotes Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, when he said, “Not my will but thy will be done,” but it also seems noteworthy that before that prayer of relinquishment he asked God, “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me.”
Even on the cross he prayed, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In times of trials, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be just as honest in our prayers. Truth to tell, when I’m at rock bottom, when I’m feeling abandoned as Jesus was by all who loved him, I don’t feel much like praying at all. Not much more than a No, God, no, which I count as one of those 10 prayers you can’t live without. When you’re desperate, at least you should let God know.
I kept running and almost at the top of hill, I tripped over a branch and fell on my knees. Ain’t that always the way, I thought. Falling at the foot of the cross. Stumbling along in my faith. Was there supposed to be some lesson here? I picked myself up, dusted myself off and made my way to the summit.
Only then could I put it together. The sun had just come up and the view was spectacular, out over the mountains and the valleys blanketed with fog. The fruit trees were blooming and I could see a dusting of pink in a few spots from the cherry trees. The view from the cross was exhilarating.
This is what I’ll have to hold on to during Holy Week, I thought. Suffering and pain are terrible but if you stay in touch with God all the while, even crying out in your misery, there’s the promise of clarity. It’s not an easy lesson in prayer, but it’s essential. Easter is at the end of the trail. The sun will rise, the trees will bloom, life will be restored. A new life better than anything that went before.