Praying Into Thin Air

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Life is like climbing a mountain. It’s an arduous experience, but it gets us to our goal. Our REAL challenge is deciding what that goal is. Is it to reach our mountain’s top or is it to find quiet, reliable places to talk to God during our climb?

Our mountainous world provides many opportunities to communicate with God. According to the gospels, Jesus took frequent advantage of those mountains. He used them not only to pray before his passion and death, but to teach, to perform miracles for others, and to resist temptation. He also revealed his kinship to our Father through his mountaintop transfiguration.

From Jesus’ elevated perspective, though, the heights of this world are not our ends, but our means to a new beginning.

Problems arise, however, when we hoard this world’s assets as our own. Why, for example, do adventurers want to climb Mount Everest? Mostly, to make it a conquest on their bucket list before dying. Many have died in vain in that attempt, as author Jon Krakauer dramatized in his book, Into Thin Air.  This account was a commentary on the commercialization of Everest-climbing, and the flouting of safety methods by rival guides to get their clients to the summit first. The majestic beauty God gave this mountain was secondary to them.

Old Testament prophets used the beauty of mountains to get closer to God, as Jesus did. In this Sunday’s first reading, Isaiah uses Jerusalem’s Mount Zion as the medium to reunite people with God (Is 25:6-10a):

The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken. … This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us! For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

But we screw up our relationship with God the same way we ruin our connections with each other: by using them for self-advancement as opposed to taking opportunities for unity. The way to unity requires preparation and respect, as many Everest climbers learn too late. If they had respected their mountain as the prophets and Jesus respected theirs, perhaps prayer would have taught them the lesson Paul teaches the Philippians in Sunday’s second reading (Phil 4:12-14, 19-20): that only one hunger matters:

I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. … My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

That brings us to the wedding feast detailed in Sunday’s gospel (Mt 22:1-14). According to Jesus’ parable, the well-fed and satisfied people invited to this occasion saw it as just that: a feast for which they weren’t very hungry—and therefore a waste of their time. It’s kind of like how many people see God’s invitation to attend Church services these days. They’d rather pursue their own interests than gather with others for a common purpose. So in this gospel passage, in disgust, the event organizer opens his wedding invitation to everyone—including those who ARE hungry for a feast.

But hunger alone isn’t enough to win a seat at this table. Respect for the unity it represents is key:

The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence.

Dressing appropriately, whether for a wedding feast or for a mountain climb, shows the respect of preparation for these occasions. We don’t come to eat at God’s feast, but to partake. A self-centered motivation to consume shows the same lack of appreciation for preparation that cost those mountain climbers their lives.

Such a focus on self is the original sin that cost Adam and Eve their lives, too. They saw the glory of Eden as their possession rather than as a connection to the divine. That was humanity’s first mistake. Failure to prepare for reaching God’s summit would be our last.

–Tom Andel


  1. I find it interesting how the Gospel message in this blog clearly illustrates that all are welcome to God’s kingdom, yet many reject the invitation.

    We are often so preoccupied with our irrelevant goals and activities, that we lose sight of our essential purpose, which is a life of following and being obedient to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    I understand how it happens, but am mystified nonetheless.

    One purpose! One goal! One objective!

    • Our rejection of the invitation to welcome God’s Kingdom among us is as ancient as our acceptance of evil’s invitation to feed our worldly passions like pride, revenge and hatred. The renewed conflicts in Europe, China and the Middle East are now proving we humans are slow learners. As long as we see each other as hated groups, we’ll never see the loved ones the spirit of Jesus represents in fellow individuals of every creed, race, and class. Climbing to the heights of God’s love takes effort on our part. One human being at a time.

  2. This week’s blog reminds me that I need to continue to pay attention to my habit of asking God to guide me to do His Will each moment of my life.

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