2014 Lent 2



Philippians 3:12-21

“I used to be able to do that.”

The words escaped my mouth unconsciously.  But I’d heard them, so I knew I’d said them.

It happened just a couple of weeks ago.  I was sitting on my loveseat in front of the television watching the Olympics.  The event before me was the giant slalom.

Yeah, I used to ski.  Quite a bit, in fact!  In high school I even pondered putting off college so that I could go live and work and ski a couple years away at Mammoth Mountain, as a few of my friends had done.  How great that would be, I thought, to wake up and head for the slopes; then, at the end of the day outdoors, to ski to work–maybe dishwashing at a restaurant or at one of the lodges on the mountain, I don’t know.  And I didn’t care.  As long as I’d get to ski each and every day.

By the time high school was over I knew the Mountain well enough to traverse its many faces without any sort of trail map.  I knew where some of the local out-of-bounds runs were too–such as Hole in the Wall, an actual natural tunnel carved into the side of the mountain by innumerable seasons of avalanches; and Toothpick, an avalanche chute barely wider at some points than my skis were long.  I already considered Mammoth my home away from home.

During my senior year of high school I went to Mammoth often, something like six times.  My friend Rick was there, having graduated a year ahead of me, living the dream; so I had a place to stay and a buddy to ski with.  He was already a very good skier.  But after living there for half a season and chocking up nearly a hundred days in a row, he’d become even better.  And I was just the risk-taker to try anything he threw at me.

If you know Mammoth, there is a phenomenal run off the top, to the left as you look up from below, called Dave’s Run.  If you ride the gondola to the 11,053′ summit then head left past the rock outcroppings, that giant, open, steep snow bowl dropping far away in front of you is it.  It’s open because it’s above the tree line.  It’s steep because, well, this is the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Anyway, there we were, Rick and I, standing at the top of a cornice with our ski tips hanging out into open sky, looking three mountain ranges east into Nevada, when he shouts in my direction (above the biting wind), “Follow me!” and drops some 10 or 12 feet onto the slope below, like a bat out of hell.

Well, what else was I to do?  I planted my poles and followed, and somehow I landed without falling.  That’s about the time I noticed Rick wasn’t really doing anything to slow himself down–not even making a few sweeping s-turns.  Rather, it was straight for the bottom, something like a half-mile away, in a full tuck.  So–what the heck?–I tucked too.

Now what I didn’t know yet was that in those near-hundred additional days of skiing Rick had been participating in a downhill clinic, meaning he was being coached and trained in racing techniques, much like an Olympian.  He’d already been clocked by a radar gun at more than eighty miles an hour.  On skis!  He told me all this later that day, by the way.

In any event, it was a fast run, the fastest I’ve ever known.  I’m sure I didn’t reach eighty, but it may as well have been!  Freeway speed anyway (which feels like a hundred on skis).

So, right near the bottom of the run, where the mountain flattens out into a sort of dale (and where, incidentally, I was travelling at the highest velocity of my life on skis–felt like a hundred), the force of gravity suddenly changed, not to mention my own center of gravity, and I nearly crashed.  I gave it all up for lost, in fact: I remember thinking about how best to sprawl so that I wouldn’t slide too far, into those rocks on the far side of the fan; and if I did whether Rick would notify my parents or just let the mortician handle it.  But somehow I didn’t crash.  Somehow I was able to regain my balance and right myself.  And I breathed again.

My momentum carried me easily enough over to Rick, who was already standing at rest, smiling, over to my left as I was giving it all up for lost.  I kicked a little snowspray his way as I stopped alongside, you know, to add a sort of it-was-nothing gesture to it all.  He, still smiling, asked simply, “What took you so long?”

Anyway, all this came to mind a couple weeks ago when I heard those words exit my mouth.  I used to be able to ski like an Olympian–or at least like one in training.  But this skiing story also came to mind today, reading the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians.  Our bodies are bodies of humiliation (v. 21).  We get old.  We have back surgeries.  We end up being unable to do the things we used to do.  And we lament.

We end up living in the glory days, like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, satisfied with our past accomplishments.

But Paul, probably certain of the executioner’s death facing him, writes a letter of consolation to some dear friends.  And this is his encouragement to himself and to them–and by extension his encouragement to us (vv. 13-14):

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it [resurrection] my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

We don’t need to live in the glory days.  The past was.  Now is what it is.  But better things lie ahead!

By the way, I decided not to move to Mammoth Mountain after high school and instead go straight on to college.  Not sure if my adventure on Dave’s Run had anything to do with this decision or not.


One Response to “2014 Lent 2”

  1. Jeff Ewer Says:

    A gift. You have a gift, my friend. Thanks for the writing you do. It keeps me from having to do it. Jeff E

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