the clearer view from above

Sometimes, our perspective needs to change before our life can.

On a shelf in my office is a weathered white helmet and some used climbing gear. Two ice axes. A carabineer holding metal pieces with funny names like crabs, chocks, cams, ottos, eights, nuts, hexes, and descenders. A cherished reminder.

patrick-hendry-v5sQNZj5E2I-unsplashAs a young adult, I loved rock climbing. I volunteered with Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, a mountaineering club designed to help people who become lost in the Colorado Rockies or trapped on some sheer face of rock. As a group and as individuals, we practiced climbing and rescue techniques, and hiked great distances while watching for signs of the lost. We trained to climb to rock ledges to help people repel down to safety. We camped overnight in snow caves and drank pine-needle tea to be better at surviving in the wilderness. I participated in several rescues, mostly by humping gear and supplies for the more experienced climbers to do the real work.

Everywhere we were, climbing mantras and rules were pounded into us by our Leads. It was an ongoing stream of rock education. I could preach a sermon on almost any of these:

“Always wear your helmet.”
“Check each other’s harnesses.”
“Listen while we are running beta” (teaching about the climb).
“Climb with the rope over your leg.”
“Be mindful of your feet.”
“Always use a longer rope—and never, never, never step on your rope.”
“Double-check your protection.”
“Always maintain three-point suspension.”
“Straighten your arms.”
“Find your center of gravity.”
“If you feel like you might fall, cry out, ‘Watch me!’”

One came to mind this week:

“Get perspective–everything looks different from above.”

On the rock face, with your leg doing the sewing machine tremble, things come close. Gravity pulls, sweat forms, and it focuses your mind into a few-foot square. One hand-hold, one foot-hold. Next move. Honestly, I think that virus-full “gravity” is doing this to us, too. Pulling us in too close, making us myopic.

Without an overall perspective, a climber can miss the bigger route, and you can lose your way. Get stuck without any clear path up or down. A good climber steps back early and often and looks at the big picture. It is, in essence, just what I learned in Scouts as a boy. If you are lost or confused about where you are, get a better view. Go climb a tree and look around. Everything looks different from above. In counseling, we call this “reframing”: to shift our view of a problem so that we can see new possibilities and options for turning things around.

Zacchaeus, the chief IRS-agent for the occupying army and community traitor of Jesus’ day, needs to turn his life around (Luke 19:1-10). His world—per the Bible—is poetically defined by how little he is. Oh, he seems powerful and wealthy in an earthy sense. But scripture tells us he is small in stature, small in compassion toward his fellow Jews, small in generosity to the poor, small in honesty (cheating others), small in friends, and small in his faith in God. His inside world matches his outside one. Dimunitive.

Zacchaeus must be feeling his smallness, for his hunger for something more, or someone more, is percolating in him. Deep inside, he knows how insignificant his life has become. We all know this feeling. When Zacchaeus hears that Jesus is nearby, he can’t imagine missing him. Single-minded, he scrambles up into a tree, hoping to get a glimpse of the Miracle Worker. It is an embarrassing, undignified thing to do—a man in a wealthy robe climbing up on a branch. Between the sycamore leaves, we are told that he sees Jesus, and that Jesus sees him. Even more, Jesus cares about him, speaks to him, and steps into his world. Zacchaeus’ life is changed forever, both in Jericho and in eternity. Just by climbing a tree. He sees. He is “saved” from his smallness.

He grows, gets bigger, and changes for the better.

A question: where do you need new perspective, new reframing, new growth in this current crisis?

More patience? More love? More faith? More sense of purpose? More peace? More quiet? More people? Less people? More exercise? More thankfulness?

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Dear Jesus, what change of perspective do I need today?

Open my eyes to what you are doing around me.

Show me both the vistas and flowers.

Give me a new perspective.

When I am confused or uncertain, guide me on the right path.

Please don’t let my pride or my schedule get in the way of seeing you.

Everything looks different from above.

Lord, show me the tree I need to climb! Don’t let me miss it.

Help me climb high enough to see you clearly.

Amen.

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