Climb, Climb, Up Sunshine Mountain

The blessings of God are fresh every morning, but these days so is the grief. Teckla and I are sorting out stuff and hauling things to the dump, so every day we come across things that belonged to Peter: clothes, guitars, drumsticks, even an accordion he hadn’t yet learned to play. Waves of sadness and loss wash over us as we realize there is no reason to keep most of this. Pieces of our hearts are carried with each load to the dump.

This daily grief numbs us to much that should delight us. As is often the case, one of the points of my last sermon pierced my heart. I had asserted that one evidence of loving God is how much we delight in Him, how much we enjoy his presence, treasure His nearness. Yet even as I proclaimed this, I realized I had lost my delight in God. I could follow and obey commandments—another sign of loving God—but my soul took no delight in Him. There was no dancing—just one foot in front of the other. I was and still am a spiritual trudger with an empty heart.  

And as is often the case with those who grieve, I have struggled to find delight in ordinary things. Peter’s death seemed like such a resounding victory for the enemy, I have had no fight left either. I should be tenaciously fighting for the ordinary joys of life but feel too exhausted. I have hope, but it is all anchored in Jesus on the other side of my grave. Such hope, although theologically sound, has not helped me face each day with joy and purpose.

But I have been helped by two unlikely allies—Christian mystics and a Vacation Bible School song from my earliest years as a child in the Pendleton Church of the Nazarene. Many Christian mystics believed that our love of God was like ladder where our contemplation moved from earthly things to heavenly things until our soul could delight in the contemplation of God himself. This idea simply recognizes that delight in creation should lead to delight in the Creator, and delight in the Creator should lead to His Word. Delight in His Word should bring communion with His indwelling Spirit until God Himself is our delight.

Peter’s death knocked me off the ladder.  I feel like a spiritual stroke victim learning to walk again.  I have found myself at the bottom of the ladder, so I have been learning to delight in small things. As unspiritual as it may sound, I have delighted in potatoes from my garden, catching salamanders and crawdads in the creek, the smoothness of a rock on the beach, and voice of many waters in the roar of the ocean. A step up has been delight in the smile and hugs of grandchildren—such an irresistible delight. I have made, as St. Ignatius urges, my five senses a way of climbing from grief to joy.

And in all this I found myself singing the old VBS song, “Climb, Climb, Up Sunshine Mountain” even though my face is not “all aglow”. I am climbing up to “where heavenly breezes blow”. I am turning from “sin and doubting” and “looking to God on High”. It is indeed a climb, and I am out of shape, but wildflower by wildflower, potato by potato, smile by smile I am learning to delight in God and feel again the winds of His Spirit.  

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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