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Marvin Repinski: Seeing our lives from the mountain top

Do we live in the lowlands or in the heights?

Using a metaphor of geology or space let’s us think about our present residence. We are living in a particular place; some of that “place” may shift from week to week, but there is, I assume, a kind of normal.

The Bible’s Old Testament pictures Moses from a high place receiving a word from the One he trusted as God. (Exodus 19:1-20). The New Testament portrays Jesus at prayer at the Mount of Olives. (Luke 9:28-44).

Contrast the heights with the places lowest in the Earth’s surface. Death Valley is an example.

Attention to the low places and the high ridges and lands touching the skies says something about my emotional, intellectual, and daily agendas.

As a young boy, I recall hunting rabbits in the marshes near Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The rabbits were abundant, maybe because the city dump was filling in the wide marsh. Plenty of food for wildlife!

In my imagination, I think of my soul traveling to the heights of Everest in the Himalayas, the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, McKinley and even a mountain range in Kenya, Africa. Adventure! And in thinking of the satisfactions of the heart, the traveler, in an inner vision may wish for a trail that leads to something spiritual.

In heights which I aspire to — and encourage such aspiration to readers of my remarks — I am also aware of a line about the master of the heights, “Jesus wept.” I, like most persons of a religious community (and I include those communities of the variety of world religions), “grieve, not as those who have no hope.” In the highlands, we are given a view, often beautiful, and it has a hue of hope!

Harry Emerson Fosdick, for many years the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, wrote, “You see, it is true — our lives are like brooks. When they babble they are shallow. When they are deep they are still.”

Often the sound in our ears may be babble.  We want to change the course.  Some persons of lasting importance did not, in their “final days,” live with their enthusiasm and creativity. That is no surprise, but is it inevitable? Ask the older men and women who volunteer for the Meals on Wheels organization. Some with a scarred body, face with a few wrinkles, and not applying for a run at the Olympics, have created their own Olympics!  Thank you!

Are you attached to heavy tomes — books? Try the volume “The Coming of Age” by Simone de Beauvoir. It covers a lot of French life and was released in 1970. I’m hooked on it. Is it because of my own age? I’ve already outlived most of my long-term friends, some relatives and parents. 

Old age and every day life is one of the long chapters. The author writes “old men’s loves are not always doomed to failure — far from it.  Many of them have a sexual life that goes on very late.” Said of one, “at age 78, he, bewigged, made up , and very thin, was said to look like a tortoise, thrusting its head out of its shell.”

That’s just one of many such examples of those living in the “lowlands” but climbing to “the height!”

Of Chateaubriand, it was said he “so loathed his aged face that he refused to sit for his portrait.”

In one of his sonnets, Ronsard wrote:  “I have nothing left but bones. I look like a shell deprived of flesh, sinew, muscle, and marrow; stuck with the mark of unforgiving death. I dare not look at my arms for fear I should tremble.”

There are many other comments, by the “greats” who lived their older days as grim and mournful days. That is part of the reality of some of our human family.

This is not the whole story. I have been at the bedsides of some dying persons who died at peace holding the hand of a spouse as they affirmed the goodness of life.

My thoughts are on the levels of life we live. Using the shape of the earth as a picture of both lowlands and heights. We know of both scenes and everything in between.

To live in the heights one must, if possible, find a great cause and invest in it. We may be reminded of the old conversation: “He kept whispering sweet nothings in her ear and she kept whispering back sweet nothing-doing.”

My wife, Becky, turned my attention to an article in the June 9 issue of the “StarTribune” newspaper, “Long March North by 15 Chinese Elephants Poses a Mystery.”  You don’t have to block streets and highways as a fool, to call attention to a cause. You can wave your protest signs in other places and maybe just stay home! Or go to work or take some children out to the park. But protest of some kind is in order on many issues.

The elephants referred to, have for over a year traveled more than 300 miles. Does climate change have an effect on the feeding needs of these animals?  Is going in a northern direction happening as the more southern landscape — food supply — is affected by worldwide climate change that is related to water and vegetation?

Do we climb the heights step-by-step and work with others to facilitate new outcomes? In a United Methodist publication, there is an essay about students. They have found a cause!  “The Philippine student Christian movement has responded to that country’s deepening political crisis.”  The essay writes of “a new generation of Asian Christian students.  Arcel Fuente, a graceful wisp of a girl with an inner ruggedness, has gathered information about the working conditions and wage levels of workers.” Attention, I give, in brief, to students from many regions who find ways to express spiritual conviction, to lift up the possibilities of lives with greater equality.

The poetic Book of Psalms of the Old Testament is for me the way God is open to seekers of a variety of “stripes.” The openness to those who desire to live by the grace of God, as they understand it, is a reason to rejoice!  Psalm 139:24 states, “lead me in the way everlasting.”  This, a prayer to all seekers.

Paul Holmer, now deceased, was one of my professors at Yale University.  His writings are available — a number of books, from Cascade Books, 199 W. Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401.

In the volume “Thinking the Faith With Passion,” writes as follows:  “Understanding has to live as a capacity; as a kind of potency, in a person.  Of course, it can be lost; and in Christian literature we are fully warned about the duplicity of worldliness, of the unrepentant spirits of the hardness of heart, wherein understanding can be darkened and capacity thus lost.  So the utmost care is in order.”

My writing is to step by step, avoid pitfalls, and for those I touch, keep looking at the far horizon.  A mountain top view creates the possibility.