If you find yourself in China, there are two places you need to see: The Great Wall (no brainer) and the top of Emei Shan. Thousands of pilgrims hike Emei Shan each year with the promise of a special view no other mountain in the world can offer. The low hanging, perpetual halo of clouds encircling the summit becomes a canvas for light. The sun's rays fracture into multiple rainbows as they hit the water droplets creating a spectacle for onlookers atop the peak. It's a stunning sight. And take it from me, a few weeks of Stair Master training will do you some good before tackling that mountain.
One beautiful October morning in 1999, seven friends and I laced up our shoes in preparation for our hike up Emei Shan. This spontaneous trip was not something any of us had anticipated while packing for our yearlong stay in Asia. Not a single one of us had good hiking shoes. Hoping for the best, we rode the bus to a drop-off point marking the start of the six-hour climb. The path was a never-ending staircase painstakingly carved out by Buddhist Monks from the 1st Century A.D. By the second hour of the steep climb, my legs felt like lead weights, and both of my feet suffered dime-sized blisters.
Every. Single. Step. Hurt like fury. "One foot in front of the other" became our mantra. We eventually came to a plateaued clearing where some men sold lollipops and salted peanuts. After a dose of these makeshift electrolytes, I shoved the peanuts into my pack and found what dwindling resolve I had left to begin climbing again. Suddenly, I got that creepy feeling someone was watching me, so I glanced over my shoulder. There, sitting along a railing, was an audience of a dozen or so large monkeys called Tibetan macaques watching our every move. Looking a little like baboons, though no blue bums, these intimidating creatures seemed suspicious. Without warning, one of the larger males came barreling toward me, crawled up my leg, scrambled onto my back, unzipped my backpack, and stole my peanuts. The human fellas with me tried to valiantly shoo the furry thief away from a safe twenty-foot distance. One friend had the audacity to snap a picture. I lost my peanuts, but I gained a priceless photo.
We hiked on. The blisters grew larger. "Those rainbows will be worth it," a friend said. And they certainly were. Like a scene from a Tolkien story, looking down over the mountainside at clouds below with circular rainbows dancing upon them was a sight forever etched in my memory. As the golden afternoon sun shone down on us, we took in the aura of the scene. I couldn't help but think of heaven with all of it's beauty and splendor. In those moments of awe on top of Emei Shan, I forgot about my blisters. And the monkeys.
Sojourning in this world reminds me of my hike up that sacred Chinese mountain. The way is difficult, steep at times, full of unexpected turns and the occasional giant monkey or two. We suffer blisters on our feet and wounds of our heart. We have friends to remind us of what is true, holding out to us the hope of our salvation along the way. We have the very presence of Christ who has sojourned this life with all the suffering and temptations we experience, yet without sin. Jesus's journey would lead him to wrath so that, united with him by faith, our sojourn leads to abundant life in a new place far more glorious than the dancing rainbows atop Emei Shan. When we finally arrive there, the great beauty we will behold is the very face of our Savior.
On this journey of Sojourners, we will get to know Jesus through studying the Scriptures and praying together. We will learn how to navigate this wilderness with a deeper knowledge of him and his unfathomable love for his people. I pray that we will have a clearer hope of our sure destination and a deeper love for the One who secured it for us.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and sojourners on earth.”