One of the joys of good health is being able to walk. On a trip to the United States of America, I had the privilege of walking up two Phoenix, Arizona peaks. The first was the Camelback. The mountain range is so named because of its similarity to the animal. The small vertical span lies within the heart of the city. The walk is two-and-one-half kilometres to reach the summit of the camel’s ‘hump’.
It is not a straight walk to the hump. There are several natural obstacles that must be overcome. It is not an average walk for average persons yet obtainable for all average persons who want to extend the boundaries of their comfort zone.
Reaching the top, we were rewarded with a wonderful full circle view of Sun Valley. Seeing four million people in one area with room for many millions more was hard to comprehend—especially when I was viewing the equivalent of New Zealand’s entire population in one space.
Having conquered Camelback, I was keen to take up my cousin’s offer to trail-blaze a path up another mountain not usually climbed. My brother, cousin, and cousin’s seventeen year old son all set out for our adventure before the sun was up over the horizon. We reached the area of our endeavour, and began walking through the desert to reach the mountain’s base.
We walked two-and-one-half kilometres before commencing our ascent. We had set our sights on the sole communications tower. Its lofty position atop that mountain challenged us to touch it.
So we climbed.
Our biggest difficulty was time. My brother had to fly out that afternoon. We were racing against a turn-around time. That is the time when we have to turn around in order to get back on time. Our goal was to reach that tower before the turnaround time expired.
As we climbed, we passed wildlife and beautiful desert vegetation. There were occasional stops to chase lizards and look for snakes, but as we climbed higher, we knew the snakes were less likely to be present. Our attention began to be focused on the view.
The higher we climbed, the more insignificant human dwellings became. We did have to stop for rests. Water is a very important part of desert exercise. On one such rest stop, we calculated we would be able to reach the peak before our turnaround time. We were so excited! We set off with renewed vigour.
The thing about climbing peaks in the midst of a range is that everything looks different once you are in the midst of those peaks. The closer you get to your goal, the more obstacles become apparent. At one point, we realised we lost half-an hour minimum by climbing to the right around a pinnacle instead left up a wash. Not to be detoured, we pressed on even harder to reach our mark before the turnaround time.
The higher we climbed, the more difficult it was. Our bodies began to feel the forty-plus years of wear and tear. It would be no excuse to quit; just a realisation that we had to pace ourselves differently from the seventeen year old trail-blazer.
As we were close to conquering the crest of our chosen mountain peak we were troubled by the loss of sight on our objective. It had been some time before the communications tower was in our view. We sent our robust teenager ahead. His father shouted out to him, ‘How close are we to getting there?’ The answer was not what we expected.
‘About three hours’.
My cousin and I exchanged anxious looks.
‘He can’t be right’ I recall my cousin declaring.
The three men rested for the final assault. We were standing nearly straight up as we laid down against the mountain. The height was producing some dizzying views. The hot, dry, thin desert air receded even further from our lungs. We then set out.
My brother was the first to see what the teenager was talking about. We climbed the wrong peak! If we had gone left up the wash we would have been on the right path. However, our chosen route took us up a false peak.
We finally saw the communication tower from our mountain peak, but not the peak we wanted. From the ground, our conquered peak was directly in line with the same peak upon which the tower stood. From the ground, they appeared as one. They obviously were not. My brother looked at the situation and asked, ‘Anyone got a mustard seed?’
It was a reference to the statement by Jesus Christ that if you command a mountain to ‘Move’ it will be thrown into a sea of water. Well, that mountain didn’t move, and we had to begin our descent. Our turnaround time was reached.
We snapped pictures of ourselves on the peak we ascended. The views were awesome. We could see over and beyond the mountain peak climbed the day before. We were very high. Mountain top experiences are captivating. They hold you in place and make you realise how insignificant one person is in the midst of Nature. It is difficult to comprehend the relevance of an individual when staring at such vastnesses.
This particular mountain top experience inspired me to do some research after returning home to New Zealand. I was fascinated by my brother’s reference to the words of Jesus Christ. They are part of a literary classic known commonly as The Sermon on the Mount.
Whether or not those words were even spoken on a mountain has been debated. What is universally accepted is that its message transcends time giving relevance. The opening remarks of this immortalized discourse have become an unofficial Manifesto for Judaeo-Christian cultures. Societal members without religious associations attempt to live by these immortal words. They inspire every one of us to strengthen our inner being and identify our core values. Jesus Christ challenges us to a higher calling beyond the daily routine.
I set about searching for a practical application in the twenty-first century. This series is a result of that research. It focuses on sermon opening known as The Beatitudes. Beatitude is a technical term. You won’t hear the word in your TV conversations or evening socials. Every industry has its own set of words which are understood by insiders and ignored others. Beatitude is one such term. The Western religious world has a tendency to create technical terms with Latin origins. Our language imported the term from the French béatitude that in turn was assimilated from the Latin beatitude. In all languages the term means blessedness. The closest we use this term in everyday life is when someone sneezes: “Bless you!” And therefore beatitude is a declaration of blessedness.
There are nine different sayings that begin with the words “blessed are…” Scholars have assigned the term Beatitudes to describe these sayings. Each one of the beatitudes presents a desired virtue. The outcome of internalising these virtues is understood by the equivalent in Solomon’s writings, “happy is the man…” The Beatitudes teach us what is worthwhile in life to pursue. The items listed by Jesus contain the place for the greatest happiness to found on earth. The eighteenth century American experiment recognised the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right of each human soul. It resulted in a revolution altering the face of human government. More than 200 years later happiness is still being pursued. What if you could find it right now?
Jesus equates divine blessing as happiness. His sermon teaches you how to find that happiness. The Beatitudes are a map to find peace in your Self. Exercising these virtues is a pursuit of happiness. In its spiritual context beatitude is a divine blessing on a person pursuing the stated virtues. As such it is a priceless revelation on how you can live a fruitful life!
Abundant living; a stronger inner being; purposeful decision making; all of this awaits YOU! I hope you too will admire the timelessness of the ancient Prophet’s message and share with me the beauty from this mountain top experience.
[reprinted from sermon series originally delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, 2005]