|Sunrise on the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area with Mt Adams in the background. Washington State|
Every mountain climbed is an experience all its own. Every one demands its own level of exertion; every one offers its own reward; and every one sings its own song. I have seen the sun rise from Round Mountain in Washington State and gasped at the melody of sun streaks over the lake, the wonder of Mt. Adams towering over the Goat Rocks, and the majesty of a pink Rainer turning to gold in the dawning light. I could almost hear the orchestral strains of breaking dawn complimenting the harmony of stillness. A concert that made the strenuous moonlit hike shrink into nothingness. I have climbed the gentler slopes of Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains. They offer a less spectacular view and a less exhausting climb, but hum with the sweet sound of insects and birds in harmony with the breeze rustling the beech, pine, and oak trees. I have climb foothills in the Italian Alps, urging myself up the last slope to feast on the sight of peaks of three countries. The Alps swell with melody. Waterfalls seem to gush from every cliff and rivers thunder through every gorge. The green meadows lilt with the music of bells worn by the flocks and herds. No two mountains offer the same; each sings a song wonderfully its own.
Castelluzzo is no exception. It was one of our easier hikes actually. My husband and I had already climbed Monte Servin above the famed Pra del Tor in Waldenses territory and Punto Vergio above the rugged Valley of the Invincibles. Our honeymoon in Italy was filled with excursions into the beauty the Alps had to offer, but Castelluzzo was a must climb for us. There were no cow bells or vast fields of wildflowers, and the clouds obstructed what vista there might have been. We were there to claim the reward of standing where a battle was fought and gloriously won. We were there to hear the song of the martyrs.
We were oddly silent on this hike. I listened to the sighing of the trees, the thud of solid ground beneath my feet, and the roar of the distant river. My mind was taking in, not just the beauty of the tree covered heights, but the scene of 500 years ago. I saw lines of people climbed the trail before me. I saw babies in their mother’s arms. I saw terrified little faces, anguished lips moving in silent prayer, and calm determined eyes. I saw hateful stares and malicious smirks. I saw drawn swords and other hideously ugly weapons drawn to prevent any attempt of escape. Only one escape was offered: renounce this heresy, this idea that one could be saved without the intercession of priest and saints, say mass, go to confession, and you may walk down this mountain and live. My line of people kept climbing. My husband and I followed.
Isaac Watt’s hymn was playing in the background of my mind. Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?
The night before I had sung that song in the Tempio Valdesi in Pra del Tor, wheezing the notes out of the antique pump organ. Suddenly, the message of the song overwhelmed me. I assessed the last few years of my life. Lately the passion for God that had filled me in earlier days was lacking. Maturity and experience had tempered my zeal with reality. Although I still experienced many moments of joy and even fun in ministry, some days, I honestly just wanted to quit. But now I knew I couldn’t. The weariness with ministry, the growing reluctance to take on responsibility, the longing for a quiet life of ease and contentment, the frustration with working hard and feeling that it was never enough, all came home to me in that moment. I felt like a plastic toy soldier next to a seasoned warrior as I compared myself to those who had endured so much without complaining. With tears I told God that whatever He asked of me would be done cheerfully. Now this climb up Castelluzzo.
We entered a beautiful meadow. How peaceful, I thought. It seemed hard to believe this was the scene of such ugliness. Grass covered the top reaching from the forest on the back to the rocky cliffs before us. I could still see my Valdesi friends marching through this field and I knew what was next. Maybe there was one last chance; one more attempt to convert their victims to their system. This being denied, the men, women, and little children were taken around the last boulder.
My tears flowed freely now. The men who had committed no crime but courageous faith, the mothers who had taught the words of the gospels to their children, the innocent little ones too young to understand, the young bride like me, full of dreams of a simple life with husband and children, all were thrown over the cliff. The soldier returned to the fort in the valley. My husband and I were left to walk back down the trail in peace.
Why not me? Why was I born in a time and place where freedom was granted and men worshiped their God in peace? A strange mixture of gratitude and envy surged through me. Gratitude for freedom, envy for a faith that could conquer that. The song kept playing. Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize or sailed through bloody seas? Are there no foes for me to face, may I not stem the flood, is this vile world a friend of grace to help me on to God?
I crawled between two rocks in search of a quiet place out of the wind. All was still. I saw them again, forced to this point choosing not between a Sabbath afternoon of outreach and a nap but between life and death. Am I a Soldier?
I opened my Bible to Hebrews 11: 32- 40
"And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."
Why not me? The answer came clearly. You too. The martyrs of Castelluzzo and thousands like them are asleep waiting. It is for us to finish. We 21st century Christians who have everything, we who stay home if it rains, we who are quick to protect our temporal comfort and slow to protect someone else’s eternal life, we walk in the footsteps of the martyrs. We are called to the same degree of commitment.
Sure I must fight if I would reign, increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy word.
I moved closer to the edge. My mind, heart, and soul tried to take all this in. How did they do it? Were they merely spiritual giants with no fears? Was theirs an innate courage, some martyr gene that hadn’t made it into my DNA? For a long time I pondered this. A tree moaned in the wind. The river thundered far below. The song played on.
The saints in all this glorious war shall conquer though they die, they see the triumph from afar with faith’s discerning eye.
They saw beyond the moment. They saw a crown laid up ahead. They saw a city with foundations. They saw a robe of white and a mansion of gold. But they saw more than all One who had ever been their Helper. They saw open arms to catch them as they fell. They had already proved Him in lesser trials.
The sun poked through the clouds bathing my rock with warmth. I smiled. This grizzly place, these cruel jagged rocks, this scene of such unspeakable evil, was a beautiful place. A victory was won here that may be repeated in each moment of sacrifice faced by God’s people. Not by being active and zealous in our own strength will we follow. Not by a sudden infusion of that mysterious martyr courage will we finish this war, but by looking beyond the moment to the One who has endured more than they all.
Hebrews 12 follows Hebrews 11. It reads. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”
This is the secret. Consider Him. Not once a week, or even once a day, but every time the temptation comes to be careless. I leaned back onto the grass. My commitment of the previous night could be kept. Any weak ordinary Christian had have this if we will just look away from the moment, away from our problems, away from ourselves, to one who has fought this glorious war and won.
I stood and begin to join in singing the final verse of the song Castelluzzo had sung to me. When that illustrious day shall rise and all Thy armies shine, in robes of victory through the skies the glory shall be Thine.