I recently coined a brand new truism. You know...like, "does a bear sleep in the woods?" or "is the Pope Catholic?"...or "you can observe a lot just by watching"....that kinda’ stuff. This particular truism is rather an inside type truism to which only a limited number of people could really give a hearty "amen". So..this one will require a bit of a set-up.
Our associate pastor,..let’s call him Pastor Paul..’cause that’s his name, is a wonderful preacher who expounds the word of God with wisdom, understanding, humility, love, concern...AND with some wonderful "mountain climbing" illustrations. In fact, not a sermon goes by that does not contain at least one mountain climbing illustration. You see in addition to his deep love for the Lord, Pastor Paul...loves the mountains. Actually, I think it may be more than just love; it may actually be an obsession. J Gresham Machen wrote, "The only way to have the slightest inkling of what a mountain is is to walk or climb up it." I personally think this is Pastor Paul’s mantra. His religious formula. His deep desire. That is... to really know what God did when he created the mountains. Therefore, his free time is spent walking and climbing them and his sermons are sprinkled with the poignant illustrations of his mountain climbing adventures. And.... we are truly blessed to have ears to hear these wonderful stories along with his unique ability to relate it all to the truths of God’s Holy inerrant Word.
Which brings me to the truism. From this point on when asked about the veracity of any truth..you may simply say, "does Pastor Paul love the mountains?" Now, when they cock their head to the right or to the left as does a puppy dog when saying "huh?"..just have them surf over to A Reformed Layman’s Perspective for the explanation. They will be enlightened and I may gain a reader. However, I suspect it will be Pastor Paul...that will gain the readers...and rightly so! (link above) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isa 52:7)
Now, in this same vein let me relate to you that I am not a lover of the mountains. I have what might be called a "great fear of heights". (acrophobia) I have told others .... "I don’t care how high off the ground I get..just as long as I can touch it with one hand". I own a 28ft ladder that just scares me to death to think about getting that high off the ground.
I was in Germany in 1962 with the US Army stationed in a little village called Schwabach, which is about 10 miles or so South of Nürnburg. A coupla’ buddies and I made friends with a local who was a lover of the mountains. Günther, not unlike Pastor Paul, also had an obsession for climbing. He encouraged us to take a weekend excursion with him to do what could only be done near Nürnburg ..... "rock climbing" . Günther was an expert "rock climber". He was an officer in the German Army during the II World War stationed in the East with the "The Elite Gebirgsjager" (mountain corps) fighting against the Russians. Günther knows rocks & mountains...and knows how to climb them. What a guide we discovered, accidently. We spent Saturday climbing some of the easier rocks with Günther. We were beginning to get the hang of this now popular sport. Günther went first with the rope to find a secure spot where he could sit or stand and I came next with the rope tightly secured around my body climbing with finger and toe holds to the spot where Günther was. All during my climb if I were to slip and fall, Günther had the rope secured. My life was literally in his hands.
Once the summit or the top of the rock was reached if there was not an anchor eye already secured into the rock, Günther would pound into the nearest crevice an anchor eyelet and one end of the rope was fed through the eye and then both ends were allowed to evenly drop down the face of the rock. Now in 1962 we didn’t have harnesses or connected descender devices...we just had a rope. The rope was fed between the legs, brought up over the head and hung over the left shoulder and down the back and the rest hung down the face of the rock. In essence the body became a living pulley system that would allow easy descent. The top of the rope was held by the left hand and the right hand held the portion of the rope near the hips. Loosening the right hand grip would allow the body to descend down the face of the cliff as fast or as slowly as desired simply by tightening or loosening the right hand grip. Fun stuff when mastered, but putting the full weight of the body onto the rope and trusting the right hand rather than the left for security was unnerving to say the least.
Then came Sunday and "The Waldmannspitze". As long as I live I will never forget the name of this rock. It’s over there right this very minute, somewhere near Nürnburg...still laughing at me for my failure to climb it. The Waldmannspitze was not your ordinary rock. Ordinary rocks at least look climbable. This rock didn’t look climbable. Günther had been up and down this thing hundreds of times. The routine was the same. Günther would go first, find a resting spot, secure the rope and then I would follow. All went well with finger and toe holds straight up the face of this rock. Now straight up is one thing. I could handle straight up. Following the rope and the route that Günther took, I came to an area that didn’t continue straight up. This area jutted outwards and upwards at a 45 degree angle. It looked like there might be some finger holds, maybe I could get my hands into one of the crevices...but that would leave my entire body dangling in mid air dependent on my finger holds and on Günther’s ability to pull me up this 45 degree angle if I fell. It was here that I lost all faith in my own ability and in Günther’s to hold a 175 pound load 50 feet off the nearest landing...with nothing but jagged rocks to break a fall.
Now here was the next problem. Günther didn’t speak English. My buddies and I spoke enough German to order a beer...and maybe just a little more, two beers. Günther was up there somewhere at the other end of the rope and I was literally at the end of my rope. I froze. I couldn’t go on. This was it...as far as I was going. I hollered above..."Ich kan nicht weiter gehen!" (I cannot go further) Now maybe my German pronunciation wasn’t good; there is a difference between high German and low German...and Günther wasn’t responding. "Ich kan nicht weiter gehen!" ...again I shouted up the cliff. Finally I hear.."O ya..sie können" (Oh yes, you can) Again I shouted, "Ich kan nicht weiter gehen!". After about 15 minutes Günther loosened the rope so that I could descend via the same finger and toe holds that got me to that point. I failed. The Waldmannspitze won.
Forty six years of water have flowed under the bridge since that episode. Regrets? You bet! I would really rather write here and tell you that I conquered the Waldmannspitze....but I can’t. A life changing "kairos" moment? No. Not really. A great disappointment? Yes. Lessons learned: one can do a lot of things in this life that you think you can’t do. Do I remember the names of the rocks that I successfully climbed. Not in a million years....but I sure remember The Waldmannspitze. So you would ask me..."was it worth it to make the attempt and fail?" I have but one thing to say..."does Pastor Paul love the mountains?"