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Summitting Mt. Everest during the Easter Season

Filmmaker Elia Saikaly has shot a number of projects chronicling his experiences on Everest. His latest, Everest: The Summit Climb, was filmed during a 2013 summit bid. Click the arrow to watch him summiting Mt. Everest.

I am amazed at the photographers and filmmakers at the top of the mountain and pretty much throughout the whole trek. The filmmaker listed above has magnificent work. Check out the video of him summiting. Another thing that caught my attention was his film work of the meteora monasteries of which I had the privilege of visiting and touring in 2017.

My husband and I received our second dose of our Covid vaccine recently. Our former primary care physician who recently retired was volunteering there at the clinic. I mentioned to him that I had a fantasy of climbing Mt. Everest. He didn’t condone it because of the danger involved. “Wouldn’t climbing a mountain around here be sufficient?” he asked. I said, “You are probably right.” A person can dream though, right?

If I am going to do it, the window is growing smaller, day by day. I suppose time will pass and then the decision will be made for me.

Journey to the Summit of My Faith

This Lent was a journey to the summit of my faith. It turned out to be less prayerful in the traditional sense but I really did a good job foregoing the things that I gave up. So much so that I am continuing with giving them up or at least limiting them. We’ll see how it goes. We are already into the third week of Easter so far. Easter happens to last 50 days all the way up until Pentecost.

I wept as I heard the hymns of my youth sung in church during Easter Mass. Seeing familiar faces going up toward Communion also made me cry. I looked forward to renewing Baptismal promises and getting blessed with the the holy water sprinkling rite. I took my glasses off anticipating water drops falling on them. I didn’t feel a drop as the deacon came by waving his dripping green fronds in the air. It also happened another year where I didn’t get sprinkled and I couldn’t believe how short-changed I felt. I just have to remember it is not about me.

Holy water font lies in wait.

I suppose the Easter tears streaming down my face were the only sprinkling I was going to get this year. Since we don’t currently have holy water in the church it just felt like more of a deprivation to not receive the Easter sprinkling. I am a creature that likes certain things a certain way. It is a matter of control sometimes working toward my benefit and sometimes not.

Summiting Covid-19 Virus

Life brings challenges and presently the challenge that will have to be summited is the Covid-19 virus. It seems to be changing the way we are living–at least in certain parts of the country. Some states are more open than others with, it seems, no more detriment.

I am still watching episodes of climbers summitting Mt. Everest and K2 which is the second highest mountain (28,251 feet) in the Himalya’s Karakorum mountain range and is nicknamed Savage Mountain. Even though it is a shorter climb than Mt. Everest, it is more technical. From 1902 to June of 2019 less than 400 people have ever reached the summit and lived to talk about it. One person dies for every four that reach the summit. K2 also has a death zone that is insufficient to sustain human life.

An Eddie Bauer video suggests that Mountain climbing is a calling for some and a religion for others. It is a chance to truly test ones own limits to do what so few have done before. One of the greatest lessons a climber can learn is how to listen to the mountain. It doesn’t have a voice but it does speak.

Lent is over now and we have fulfilled out Easter duty of attending part or all of the Triduum with the culmination of Easter Mass. But Easter goes on another 50 days until Pentecost. Perhaps we can look at summitting Mt. Everest as Easter and making it back down as Pentecost.

Eucharist as Source and Summit

After summiting, the most important part of the journey is climbing back down. I have been noticing in the videos that one is not able to climb without ropes guiding and assisting with the climb. During Lent, we hung on to Jesus offering our sufferings. Now we have celebrated His resurrection. What do we place our focus on now? For Catholics, the answer is easy. We look to the Eucharist. Reception of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. When we break bread together it teaches us who we are in Christ. Not being allowed to celebrate the Mass this past year has also taught us a lot about who we are.

On the mountain there are many people that you encounter, from all walks of life. The church is also like that. The Catholic church is universal, located in many countries around the world with a diverse cross section of humanity. We share the same prayers. The prayers of the Mass. I like that. It has been said that Jesus is offered up in the Mass every hour of every day all around the world. I like that, too.

Summiting the Mountain of Divine Mercy

Here is a mountain of a prayer called a litany. After each line, the response is Jesus, I trust in you. It is a litany prayer that is prayed on Divine Mercy Sunday or at any time really. It is often prayed after the Divine Mercy Chaplet which is prayed at 3 pm, at the hour of Christ’s death. I would say the world needs a whole lot of mercy right now.

Divine Mercy Painting

Divine Mercy Litany Prayer

Divine Mercy, gushing forth from the bosom of the Father
Divine Mercy, greatest attribute of God
Divine Mercy, incomprehensible mystery
Divine Mercy, fountain gushing forth from the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity
Divine Mercy, unfathomed by any intellect, human or angelic
Divine Mercy, from which wells forth all life and happiness
Divine Mercy, better than the heavens
Divine Mercy, source of miracles and wonders
Divine Mercy, encompassing the whole universe
Divine Mercy, descending to earth in the Person of the Incarnate Word
Divine Mercy, which flowed out from the open wound of the Heart of Jesus
Divine Mercy, enclosed in the Heart of Jesus for us, and especially for sinners
Divine Mercy, unfathomed in the institution of the Sacred Host
Divine Mercy, in the founding of the Holy Church
Divine Mercy, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism
Divine Mercy, in our justification through Jesus Christ
Divine Mercy, accompanying us through our whole life
Divine Mercy, embracing us especially at the hour of death
Divine Mercy, endowing us with immortal life
Divine Mercy, accompanying us every moment of our life
Divine Mercy, shielding us from the fire of hell
Divine Mercy, in the conversion of hardened sinners
Divine Mercy, astonishment for Angels, incomprehensible to Saints
Divine Mercy, unfathomed in all the mysteries of God
Divine Mercy, lifting us out of every misery
Divine Mercy, source of our happiness and joy
Divine Mercy, in calling us forth from nothingness to existence
Divine Mercy, embracing all the works of His hands
Divine Mercy, crown of all God’s handiwork
Divine Mercy, in which we are all immersed
Divine Mercy, sweet relief for anguished hearts
Divine Mercy, only hope of despairing souls
Divine Mercy, repose of hearts, peace amidst fear
Divine Mercy, delight and ecstasy of holy souls
Divine Mercy, inspiring hope against all hope

Concluding Prayer: Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.

[From the Diary of Sister Maria Faustina]

… Jesus, I Trust In You …

Into the Death Zone on Mt. Everest

Holy Week Meditation

At 29,035 feet, (5.5 miles above sea level), Mt. Everest’s summit has approximately one-third the air pressure that exists at sea level, which significantly reduces a climber’s ability to breathe because of reduced oxygen. At this altitude, the body begins to die off. When summiting Everest, carrying supplemental oxygen is the norm with few exceptions. Without this life-saving necessity, it would be impossible for most people to reach the summit and make it back down without encountering numerous complications. That is why it is notoriously called the “Death Zone,” reaching altitudes at and above 26, 247 feet above sea level.  Most of the 200 plus climbers who have died on Mount Everest have died in the Death Zone.

Dangerous Queues at the Top in the Death Zone

At high altitudes the human body cannot function properly and a lack of oxygen results in a multitude of health risks. When the amount of oxygen in your blood falls below a certain level, heart rates soar up to 140 beats per minute (normal rate is between 60-100), increasing heart attack risk. Oxygen is so limited that the body’s cells start to die. Climbers’ judgment becomes impaired, and they can experience heart attacks, strokes, or severe altitude sickness. To make matters worse, climbing Mt. Everest has become so popular that queues of climbers form at the top before reaching the summit increasing the time spent in the Death Zone and have culminated in more deaths. In 2019, the queues to reach Everest’s summit have been so long that climbers in the Death Zone are dying of exhaustion waiting in line for their turn to climb.

Sometimes in life, what we’ve planned is confronted with the unexpected.

No Man Left Behind Does Not Apply on Everest

You help each other out on the mountain and there are many stories of heroism—and also of tragedy. Often times, climbers will encounter other climbers along the way who have been waylaid for myriad reasons. Depending on where you are located on the mountain and what condition the downed person is in, will determine their fate. When you are in the Death Zone and you only have enough oxygen for yourself to make it down, even if you didn’t continue to the summit, the decision is made for you—you most often must leave your fellow trekker on the mountain, or you will both perish.

Before reaching the upper camps, climbers must cross the Khumbu Icefall. The icefall consists of layers of gigantic ice blocks that are constantly shifting, creating giant crevasses in-between them. Climbers use metal ladders to span these cracks. It is safest to climb the icefall in the dark before the ice begins to wake up under the warmth of the sun. The push to the summit is also initiated in the cover of darkness so that trekkers can reach the summit in the daylight and then descend before darkness falls.

A Host of Physical Ailments

Mountaineers typically spend one to two months at Base Camp, making multiple trips up and down the mountain to acclimatize. If climbers don’t give their bodies enough time to adjust to the lung-crushing conditions in the Himalayas, they could experience swelling in their brain and lungs. When you are at the upper camp levels above the Khumbu Icefall, the potential is there to develop high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), in which dangerous levels of fluid build-up in the lungs. The best treatment is to get down the mountain.

One of the biggest risk factors at 26,000 feet is hypoxia, a lack of adequate oxygen circulation to organs like your brain. If the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, it can start to swell, causing a condition called high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Essentially, it’s HAPE for the brain. Humans begin to deteriorate, sleep less, lose weight and their muscles begin wasting away.

This swelling can trigger nausea, vomiting, and difficulty thinking and reasoning. An oxygen-starved brain can cause climbers to forget where they are and enter a delirium that some experts consider a form of high-altitude psychosis. Hypoxic climbers’ judgment becomes impaired, and they’ve been known to do strange things like start shedding their clothes or talking to imaginary friends.

There is also glare from the endless snow and ice which can cause snow blindness which is temporary vision loss or burst blood vessels in your eyes. Any exposed skin freezes instantly in the Death Zone. Temperatures never rise above zero degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite is common and can turn gangrenous. It often takes everything to put one foot in front of the other. Poor decision-making can lead climbers to forget to clip back into a safety rope, stray from the route, or fail to properly prepare life-saving equipment like oxygen tanks.

The Denial of Impending Death

The Sherpa, who do most of the “heavy lifting” on the mountain carrying necessities and sometimes haul up luxuries that some of the more prominent expedition companies advertise to entice clients. Along with carrying the bulk of supplies, Sherpas are there to guide and assess the mountain for their clients. Sherpas indicate that many of the deaths on Everest happen after climbers inadvertently push their bodies past their limits, which makes it hard to climb back down. Some climbers suffer an oxygen-starved delirium and their judgment becomes impaired often times just sitting down and not going any further.

In order to summit successfully, everything must go just right. Around 10 p.m., climbers leave Camp Four at 26,000 feet. The first chunk of their climb is done in the dark, lit by starlight and headlamps.

About seven hours later climbers typically reach the summit. After a brief rest filled with celebrations and photographs, the expeditions turn around, making the 12-hour trek back to safety and arriving (ideally) before nightfall.

A Different Kind of Passion

Why on earth would anyone want to climb Mt. Everest? Maybe it is the risk–the excitement–the challenge. Will it make us happy?

Just living daily life can be a challenge. The world continues to move forward for good or for naught—the battle between good and evil, light and darkness. We sure may feel that way after the Colorado mass shooting inside of a grocery store where 10 non-suspecting shoppers and police officer were brutally mowed down with a machine gun. (Catch the live-stream funeral Mass for Officer Eric Talley here today March 29.) A grocery store, a bastion of the every-day, essential places, and many of the few places we can go during the pandemic, can now be considered a potential threat. We need to remind ourselves that we do not know the day or the hour that we may take our last breath. I am saddened by the incident.

We could look at Holy Week and Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross as some sort of death zone. Maybe as Christians, we could die more and more to our sins. We focus on his death because our sins put Him on the cross. Jesus suffered bloody torture and then was lifted up high to hang from a cross to die—he, who was sinless. We examine our lives and any sin or habits that don’t work toward building up the Kingdom of God.

Heavy Lifting in Life and on the Mountain

In life, we may carry a heavy burden like the Sherpas. We unite this burden with Christ’s suffering, who essentially paid the price so that we might have eternal life. When we reach the top of Everest have we made it to our life’s goal? Will we want more after this? Will we be fulfilled? Making it to the top doesn’t guarantee that we will make it back down. Just as in life, and climbing Mt. Everest, one foot in front of the other is required—every day.

Sometimes climbing and summiting don’t go as planned. Such is life. Not everything goes as planned. The important thing to remember is how do we make a difference where we are? How do we give our lives to and for the service of others no matter the position we hold or our vocation? During Holy week when we meditate on the Passion of Christ, we can do this.

Crucifixion painting by Diego Velazquez.

King of Kings movie trailer.

King of Kings movie.

Live-Stream Mass for Officer Eric Talley

Experiencing a Mountain of Spiritual Dryness

There is only one week left before Holy Week. By now, we’ve gotten into the swing of Lent and may be doing a stellar job or we may have succumbed to not keeping Lenten promises. After all, it’s about Jesus and our relationship with Him and not about what we decide to give up for Lent that matters most. The question we need to ask ourselves, is how did we draw closer to Christ?

“Hangry” Lenten Season

For some, Lent may have gone on as usual. My Lent is turning out to be very different than past Lenten seasons, mostly because of pandemic living. I gave up sweets and alcohol and attachments to certain things. A surprising thing has happened, though. As of this week, I have decided to fast continuously. I am checking what I eat and how much I eat and try to feel the “pangs” of hunger. This is unheard of for me. I eat consistently at the same time each day and do not like to “go hungry.” Or, shall I say, I don’t like it when I am “hangry.” I decided that I wanted to think about and focus on my hunger to draw closer to Jesus. Today, it made me realize how much I think about food. It’s probably because I am a foodie and I love to eat.

Another reason I decided to embark on this hunger deprivation is that I am going through a spiritual dryness. It is a dryness that I have never felt before. It is a draught. I feel like the pandemic has thrown me off track–shaken me up. Initially, when there was no in-person Mass and the comfort of your surrounding church family, it caused me to draw inward. I am working through it by living with it, trusting that God is there. One thing that has helped me is working outside of the house, otherwise I think I would go totally berserk.

Mountaineers on Mt. Everest have to deprive themselves and eat a lighter diet. They are focused on the end goal and come prepared to attempt reaching it.

gray and brown mountain
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Traversing the Upper Camps

After crossing the Khumbu Icefall and making it to Camp 1, many climbers go back and forth between Camp 1 and Camp 4 to acclimatize there body to the lack of oxygen. Gradual ascent is the most important factor in preventing acute mountain sickness. Staying a day or two to rest in one spot for every 2,000 feet of climbing above 8,000 feet is the prescribed method to ward off physical complications.

Success in acclimatizing depends on the speed of your climb and how hard you push yourself. When the body is deprived of oxygen and low air pressure, the body can exhibit signs of mountain sickness which could be mild to life-threatening and can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and heart.

Mild to moderate mountain sickness symptoms include: difficulty sleeping; dizziness or light-headedness; fatigue; headache; loss of appetite; nausea or vomiting, rapid pulse (heart rate); shortness of breath with exertion. More severe acute mountain sickness symptoms include: blue color to the skin (cyanosis); chest tightness or congestion; confusion; cough; coughing up blood; decreased consciousness or withdrawal from social interaction; gray or pale complexion; cannot walk in a straight line, or walk at all; shortness of breath at rest. There are medics at the camps but you are a long way from a full array of medics and medical equipment.

Spiritual Dryness is a Thing

Spiritual dryness is kind of like a sickness, too. In a way, God is like a parent that lets His child go out to drive alone for the very first time or pretty much any time after they get their license. He trusts that the child can drive safely. I am surprised that God does this because it is really nerve-wracking as a parent of teenagers drivers.

Being in a spiritual desert is feeling like we have to rely on ourselves. Of course, we don’t have to rely on ourselves. We can fall back on prayer, attend Mass more often or read daily scripture and meditate upon it. Often times, I may think I can go it alone, but God will be there in the subtlest of voices in the circumstances of daily living. After all, we constantly look for His consolation like a child wanting to be loved but instead we experience a lack of this attention which creates a feeling of desertion. As a mature believer, we don’t always feel this consolation like when we first experienced His loving presence and we might be worried about this sense of being in a spiritual desert.

I take great comfort in knowing that the saints also experienced this dryness but they never lost hope. St. Mother Theresa, of all people, experienced excruciating spiritual dryness for many years! She accepted this as God’s will for her life and she incorporated a blind faith as the dryness continued.

A Master of the Mountain

World-renowned Mother Theresa of Calcutta, now Saint Theresa of Calcutta, a champion for the poor and destitute, experienced a profound spiritual dryness.

1910-1997

Life Is – An inspirational Poem by Mother Teresa

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

Let God Do the Heavy Lifting

Sometimes you just want someone to carry that heavy load for you in life. Everyone has some sort of baggage or load they would like to be rid of. News flash: no matter your situation in life, everyone has a story and we all experience the same types of things.

The Mt. Everest Sherpa do a lot of the heavy lifting when climbing Mt. Everest. Without their help, inexperienced climbers would not make it to the summit. Sherpas are a member of a Himalayan people living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet, renowned for their skill in mountaineering. They are part work-horse part guide, carrying heavy loads of food, supplies and oxygen tanks for their clients up and down the mountain. Many unexperienced climbers would not be able to summit without their skill and knowledge.

In Life, Sometimes We Fall Down the Crevasses

In life, sometimes we fall. Same on Mt. Everest. If you aren’t careful, a 100 mile-per-hour wind can whip up unexpectedly and knock you off the mountain. Or, you could take a misstep and go hurtling down the steep rock face.

Once you reach base camp and begin to get acclimatized, the next step is to start off for Camp 1. To do that you have to cross the Khumbu Icefall located at the head of the Khumbu Glacier. Crossing it is considered one of the most dangerous stages of the South Col route to Everest’s summit.

An Ever-Changing River of Ice

The Khumbu Icefall is a short distance from Everest Base Camp and ranges from 17,060 ft, to 29,029 ft., and is an ever-changing and fast-moving river of ice that challenges mountaineers as they amble up the mountain toward Camp 2. Climbers use fixed ropes and metal ladders to cross the vast crevasses. They also have to contend with huge ice towers, (called seracs) that collapse and send huge ice blocks as big as houses careening down the glacier.

This living mass of moving ice cracks, sputters, hisses and moans. Our lives can kind of be like that of a glacier. Glaciers grow and recede based on the weather conditions. We grow in knowledge, experience, and understanding or sometimes we are bogged down with our emotions and feelings and the state of the world. On a larger scale, from a baby we grow and then we recede to our end of life on earth. It is the cycle of life. Maybe that is why the mountain is calling me, especially now on this Lenten journey, at least climbing it vicariously.

Repent and Believe in the Gospel

A rather large cross on my forehead on Ash Wednesday.

Perhaps our lives are not as treacherous as climbing a mountain, but perhaps they are. It is usually when we are far from God’s love when our lives begin to spiral downward. When we fall or sin we fail God and our fellow man. When we sin, we may think that we are not affecting anyone else, but our actions always have an effect. No matter how we have fallen God always turns it to the good. As Catholics, we have a way to create a clean heart through the sacrament of Reconciliation. However, the whole point of Reconciliation (Confession) is conversion. During Lent we focus on conversion of the heart. When we receive ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday the minister tells us to, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

When you are on the mountain you are most likely part of a group and develop a team to help each other out. There is a designated leader that will let you know whether it is safe to attempt the summit. There is only a small window of time to attempt to reach it safely and if you are not within that window, your life may come to an end at the expense of refusing to listen. Jesus also gives us guidance on how to live our lives or we might not make it to abide with him in heaven. A simple guide on how we are to conduct ourselves in life is present in the 10 Commandments. It is how we are supposed to conduct ourselves by holding God close-by in our thoughts, in our hearts, on our lips, and in our actions. Sometimes, often easier said than done.

During Lent, we may think about our mortality as we contemplate the Passion of Jesus which is His life, death crucifixion.

Encountering the Crevasses in Our Lives

Many people in the world may think that Jesus and religion is an outmoded way of thinking or believing, but until you have felt His presence you won’t know what you are missing. And the only way to the Father is through His son. Eventually, we are all called but few are chosen. Often times it is in our encounter with the “crevasses” in our lives that draws us closer to the Presence of God.

Sometimes our practice waxes and wanes and changes, not unlike the moving river of ice and may depend on the circumstances of our lives, but God is always there behind the scenes as a constant companion. He is there in the subtlest of ways and the more blatant. He will never leave us. We can choose to be close to Him or not.

The time of the pandemic has been trying and the election year in some ways was worse for me. During Lent I have a particular image in my head of the Blessed Virgin Mary crushing the evil and cunning snake and is a way for me to cope with the injustices in the world. When we pray to Jesus, through Mary, she intercedes for us. We just need to remind ourselves that we are ultimately not in control. That is why I conjure up this image of Mary’s power in the world. It is kind of a lifeline as I don’t think I am in the realm of affecting change on a grand scale. I then realize that I can change the world around me and try to leave it in a better place than when I found it. I might fall or fail to show God’s love from time to time but I don’t want to fall so big and so hard down the biggest of crevasses because there could be no way back from that.

The ever-moving Khumbu icefall beings in the lower left part of the photo and rises up towards the upper right. A link of more photos of the Khumbu Icefall.

Khumbu Icefall on Everest – Satori Adventures Nepal

Nepal Mt. Everest Icefall
George Kashouh Mt Everest Icefall Ladder

The photos from Travelthewholeworld.com and the linked videos give you an idea of the magnificence of the daunting challenge that trekkers face when climbing Mt. Everest. The glacial canyon and rocks are unbelievably tough to maneuver before even reaching Camp 1. After crossing the icefall, trekkers will realize that the 23 mile trail to Mount Everest, excluding acclimatization which slows the process, is a never-ending journey.

Not only will mountaineers encounter a precipitous climb on the expedition but could also experience hypoxemia, sub-zero temperature, and bitter cold. Wet avalanche and rockfall are some of the other threats to the survival of every trekker.

The low atmospheric pressure and the continuous battle against low oxygen and summit fever lasts until the climbers descend to the base camp and into the valley below.

Some Awesome Videos of Climbing the Khumbu Icefall

Back to the ladders at Everest / Khumbu Icefall – Bing video

Chapter 3: Attempting Mount Everest’s Khumbu Icefall In 4KVR | 360 Video | Sports Illustrated – Bing video

Crossing Khumbu Icefall on Everest Climbing – Bing video

 

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About Mary Perkins

Mary Perkins is a blogger who looks for the usual and unusual ways that her Catholic faith resonates with every-day life. She makes connections large and small and shares them with her readers on themarianniche.com blog. Mary is also the content editor for the lifestyle and fitness blog, fitness-well.com. She likes to write and would like to turn her blog into a money-making venture someday.

Mary likes to take photos and has her iPhone camera always within reach. She breaks out her Canon 7D for when she needs to be more detailed.

I do have a store that sells First Communion/Confirmation jewelry and plan on promoting it more soon. If you are so inclined to contribute a donation to my blog I thank you.

Lenten Journey-Base Camp on Mount Everest

I am not sure how it all began–this fascination with climbing Mount Everest. I remember a while back that I was introduced to a book called “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakaur about a triumphant and deadly expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest. I think I was hooked after that. There is also a movie based on the book.

I have long had the desire to climb Mount Everest. I am not sure why. I have only climbed two small mountains in my life, Mt. Roxy Ann in Medford, OR at 3576 feet tall (my in-laws used to live in Medford at the base of Roxy Ann) and Mt. St. Helen in Washington at 8366 feet in elevation. I have climbed other hills sprinkled in here and there.

In an earlier day at Mt. Saint Helen viewing the north side. I climbed the south side with my son’s boy scout troop. Photo top right is at Mt. Roxy Ann.

Mt. St. Helen was considerably more challenging and I climbed it once to the top and another time to the pumice field. The first time climbing it, we made it to the top. I was with my son’s boy scout troop. The second time was with my family and we were not as well prepared. We started late and the weather was foggy and there was a mishap with a pair of boots. You never know what you will encounter out in nature.

Why Would Someone Climb Mt. Everest?

The Mt. Everest’s south base camp in Nepal, is 17,598 feet above sea level. (The north base camp is in Tibet, China at 16,900 feet.) The air is noticeably thinner. Many climbers begin to acclimatize at base camp and at higher camps for months before making the final ascent to the summit of Mt. Everest. It is not uncommon to experience altitude sickness which, at times, can be acute and quite serious. I know that I experienced oxygen deprivation when climbing Mt. St. Helen. The closer we got to the top the harder it was to breathe and every step was labored. Everything slows down at the top.

Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet. People die climbing Mt. Everest.

Some people may be attracted to the risk of climbing Everest, because, after all, your life is at stake and if you make it, it’s a notch in the old belt loop and a feather in your cap. Many climbers who have died on Mt. Everest remain on the mountain because it is too risky to bring them down. For some people, essentially risking their lives makes them feel more alive, exuberant, or having to do with mastering a situation.  If they can approach it in a methodical enough way they will feel in control. I would have to say that I am in the latter camp of taking a methodical approach to attain a goal as well as the notoriety of it, of mastering the often unattainable for most people.

This looks like a forlorn place with it’s “desert-like” appearance. Photo Credit: emifaulk on Flickr

Placing the Focus on Lent

During Lent, Catholics focus on fasting, almsgiving and penance. For Lent, many of us may give up the usual things like chocolate, alcohol, sweets, etc. Or, we may do something for someone. I thought this Lenten observance could be taken in increments just like climbing Mt. Everest.

We are beginning the journey at base camp now. My husband has decided for us that we will give up the usual sweets and the occasional (or sometimes more frequent) glass of wine after work. Lent is really more than that. Don’t we rend our garments and put on sackcloth and sprinkle ashes on our heads? Rending (tearing) of garments, putting on sackcloth, rough clothing made from goats hair worn for mourning, and sprinkling ashes on the head were Hebrew customs expressing great sorrow over grave evils or as a sign of repentance for sin. I think we got off easy living in the modern era–in terms of the sackcloth. Fasting is a way of shifting the focus on God and not ourselves.

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.  Joel 2:13  

For Lent, I decided that I would write again. I put it down for a while because I felt that there wasn’t much to write about during the pandemic or at least not that much to look forward to. Ok, I will admit it, I am depressed at times because of pandemic living.

As Catholics, we begin the journey on Ash Wednesday for 40 days. Jesus was tempted and retreated to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. We, too, set aside time to contemplate our lives and long for Easter Day, the Resurrection of the Lord, where we will renew our baptismal vows. By the time we reach Easter Sunday, we may just have a fuller understanding and experience of God’s faithfulness and his salvation.

Grappling with Our Mortality

When you climb Mt. Everest you are confronted with your mortality. One major slip-up or oversite and it’s curtains. At base camp, you are already deprived of oxygen. Preparing for Mt. Everest, I am sure you are contemplating and planning and making sure all of your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted before you attempt reaching the summit.

Do we put that much focus on our Lenten journey? We all carry our life’s baggage with us and Lent is a good time to unload that in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We prepare our hearts by meditating upon Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection through attending Stations of the Cross or praying the rosary. We place our focus on others by contributing to the Lenten Rice Bowl Mission. We can read Magnificat’s Lenten Companion.

The thing is, our whole lives are like climbing a mountain.

The mountain of the Lord. Meditating on His sacrifice during Lent.

Reaching New Heights during Lent on Mt. Everest

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Climbing to the top of Mt. Everest during Lent.

Lately, learning everything about climbing Mt. Everest fascinates me. I think it is a way to escape the current reality we are living in. Join me in taking a Lenten journey as we “climb” Mt. Everest.

A decision to climb Everest is not made lightly. Age, physical condition, expense, time allotment, experience, etc., are all important factors. Deprived of the simple amenities of home, camping in tents on rocky hillsides while breathing thin air, traversing over gaping ice crevices, climbing through the “Death Zone,” and ultimately making the final push to the summit, pushes one’s body and mind to the limit.

With the arrival of Lent, I realize that we have almost completed a year living with the coronavirus pandemic. How did that happen?

It has been a weird year for me spiritually. We were unable to attend Palm Sunday and Easter Masses. We experienced outdoor Mass in summer. When the weather turned, we had indoor Mass with limited capacity, tightly controlled, at least in terms of reserving a spot and seating arrangements. No holy water, no communal singing, no Eucharistic cup and no fellowship after Mass. I was thankful for the attempt at keeping everyone safe while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy but after a year, it begins to change a person’s perspective on things.

I have done my share of “watching” televised Mass as we are still allowed the dispensation from attending but I try to go as often as possible. It was so hard at the beginning but over time the acceptance level rises. How long does it take for a new habit to form? I think it is six weeks. Dare I say that it is beginning to feel “normal?” Is it going to be a new way of living? There are many questions that need answering. Time will tell.

Since we are living through a perpetual Lent by pandemic standards and now that we have arrived at the actual season of Lent, I thought I would like to equate climbing Mt. Everest with the 40 days of Lent. I suppose there are some similarities. Both take planning and both lead one on a journey to arrive at a destination, while enduring some hardships along the way.

Over the next several weeks, join me in “climbing” the tallest mountain in the world through a Catholic lens as we make our way through Lent.

A detailed map of climbing the South Face of Mt. Everest
Join me on a Lenten journey as we “climb” Mt. Everest. Photo by Trek Himalayan.

A Different Kind of Advent Season in a Weary World

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

I looked at the last time I posted anything. Several months have gone by! I won’t explain why. There are numerous reasons—too many to count. I think my blog standings have diminished but they weren’t very robust to begin with. It takes effort to keep the flow going and my effort in that department has been nil. This inactivity, I will attribute to COVID-brain, and working 40 hours per week at a different job.

I am a spectator of sorts at what the world is presenting as news. I get most of it through screens of various shapes and sizes. I also get it from the reactions and behaviors of other people. The problem is, depending on the source of the “news,” depends on what we begin to believe about the world we are currently living in, and to some extent, what we believe about ourselves.

This Advent will be different for me because I won’t be celebrating some of the days in the usual ways with in-person Mass attendance. That has me thinking about how I will celebrate it.

Sterile Pews

Suffice it to say, Mass attendance has been pretty sterile lately, to put it mildly. I am not complaining but making an accurate observation. I ask myself, sitting in pews distanced from others while my face is masked, if this is what I signed up for? Well, in fact, yes; I did sign up for it as it is a requirement. Of course, being a cradle catholic, the practice of Mass attendance is all that I know. It has been several months of masked Mass attendance, assigned seating after “signing up” for Mass and a multitude of safety protocols in place. Yes, I am thankful for that, but I don’t want it to be the “new normal.” I guess God doesn’t always give us what we want.

The Mass is about our relationship with Jesus, but it is also about our relationship with others. Without “other,” it has been very difficult to have the relationship with Jesus and with ourselves. It is “other” which acts as a mirror to ourselves. Without this interaction, we begin to question our existence. Sure, we can exist virtually, but do we really exist in place and time on a screen? I suppose we are just a summation of our thoughts, feelings and desires anyway, embodied by flesh and blood. I think it is the element of human touch and closeness that we all crave and can be considered a need right now.

Social Mass-Butterfly

When we receive Eucharist, we do receive Jesus, but for me, without fellowship after Mass, it feels as if the consummation of the sacrificial meal has not fully taken place. We receive His Real Presence through the Eucharist but if unable to be in relationship after Mass, I feel the “family” aspect has been taken away. No coffee and donuts, no tacos after Mass. No hi, how-are-you’s. No hugs or handshakes. We are all just robots.

How then, do we carry on this relationship with our church family? We don’t—until it is safe to do so. We have our little bubbles and places of work that become our family. How do we reach out in a time of drawing inward spiritually and for health-related safety? As best we can, through phone calls, Zoom calls, talking to the people in our households, sending cards and letters, giving to the needy. Through it all, He is there in our hearts and when we call on Him. He is there whether there be feast or famine. I would consider this time we are living in a famine.

Just the Essentials, Please

Many people and organizations try their hardest to do virtual programs. I am just not that interested in sitting in front of screen to do it. I have tried it, and it is just not that exciting. Maybe I am not desperate enough for human interaction because I am getting some interaction on a daily basis. In regard to the Mass, we do get the scripture readings and prayers of the Mass virtually, so there is benefit in that.

I have asked myself, what do we really need in life? Food, clothing, warmth, love and clean air, (especially after this fall in the northwest’s smoke-filled air). Which of these is the greatest? We need all of them to survive. Do we need all the extras? Probably not, but I do like the extras. Having them is like the icing on a cake. The extras make life all that much more beautiful. When push comes to shove, the essentials are where it’s at though. What I don’t want is for this way of life to become “normal.” It’s anything but normal. It is a prison. m The longer it lasts, the more the non-essentials are needed.

I Will Still Celebrate

The celebration will still go on. I have my Advent candles to light each week and that bring me into the season of hope and joy. I prayed a small blessing over them. This weekend I tuned into live-streaming Mass. I enjoy being able to listen to familiar hymns and scripture readings, and of course, the prayers of the Mass. That is what is getting me through this desert. After all we are supposed to be in a desert during this four weeks of Advent. It is a little like Lent but rooted more in joy.

I sat at the table today placing the candles in a holder and noticed that they were partially constituted of beeswax. Many things used in liturgical celebrations are made of real properties. For instance, fresh flowers placed at the altar and real altar candles, and incense. Fake candles or flowers are not generally used. I was pleased that my candles had beeswax in them. As I sat at the table, realizing that I won’t be attending Mass, I shed tears. I realized that the tears were a gift. I have been going through a spiritually dry season. The shape of the world has left me lacking in hope but I remind myself, that God is the author of life. God brought to me my tears of desire and me wanting to be with Him.

“The Cloud of Knowing”

Even without the external, physical items, there has been a shift in my heart. My heart “knows” the season. Have you ever gotten dressed for Mass and realized that you have dressed in the liturgical colors without having read scripture? That happens to me a lot. My sense of being just “knows.”

After all, Advent is considered a penitential season. It is a season of looking within and purging and allowing God’s love to work in our lives and through our lives; to be a shining light for others.

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Let your Brain Relax with a Media Cleanse to Decrease Anxiety and Create Peace-of-Mind

Let it all spill out.

Now more than ever, we need to detach from the media, especially if you are feeling anxious. Most times the media just provides opinion and speculation and I always feel that I have to do my own fact-checking. I really don’t have time for or the desire for that.

We spend a LOT of time on our phones. Our smart phones keep track of so many things in our lives and we often carry it wherever we go. Many of us spend upwards of 3 to 4 hours a day or more of personal time on our phones. Just think of all the things we could accomplish if we didn’t cave to the little black screen.

Part of the obsession we have with our phones is that we often look for likes and retweets so that we can stroke our ego. Science shows that the dopamine boost we get from Facebook likes is the same as we get from scoring a jackpot at a casino.

Now would be a good time to take a break for a while since there is so much negative “news” compounded by a kind of vitriolic debate out there which could be the cause of increased anxiety. Here are some surefire ways to lessen anxiety that you might be feeling right now.

Eliminate the Temptation of Picking Up Your Phone

Turn off notifications on your phone unless it’s for work and you are required to have notifications on. We don’t need to respond to someone at the drop of a hat. You can set a time convenient for you to respond if you choose to. Move apps that open on your home screen so that they are harder to access. Leave your phone behind or if you use it to track mileage walked, take it with you but keep it in your pocket.

I never played into the social media game so much until recently. I figured I needed to jump on the bandwagon so that I could remain “social.” I do like getting a glimpse of other peoples’ lives on Facebook but it has turned political recently and posting your views is probably not worth losing a friendship over. Take a break for a week and see how you feel at the end of the week. Set a specific schedule and time limit that you will look at your social media each day and stick to it.

Some people have eliminated social media platforms. You can let your social media friends know that you have decided to change course. Focus on the relationships that surround you and for people who look out for your best interests. Life is short and social media can act as a thief of our free time and often as a thief of our peace-of-mind. You can go on an extended break or delete your account altogether.

If you have decided not to scrap social media during the pandemic it helps to maintain social contact. You can do that in-person while social distancing, having a conversation over the phone, or chat on Facetime or Zoom.

Set Accomplishable Goals

Write down some goals you have and then break them up into actionable steps to get there. Take time to dream about how you want your life to look or what you would like to accomplish. Even though we are collectively going through a pandemic, identify what you would like to accomplish in one week, one month, one year and five years. You may want to begin planning an overseas trip. You can open an account to save money for it, plan the cities and sites you will see or take an online or college course in a foreign language to help you prepare for it.

Think of Different Ways to Relax

Listen to music. I used to listen to music more and I often go through phases with it. The other day, I was doing a repetitive task and decided to listen to music on my phone using headphones. It really lifted my spirits and took me back to a different time based on what time period the music was from. It made the time go faster and I felt joyful listening to it. The only problem is that it was in a work environment so I couldn’t share it. This is a whole other topic but since we all seem to tune into our own individual music, it makes it more lonely since we don’t often share listening to music together.

Curb Screen Time Before Bed

Oh, and I am often guilty of this: viewing social media before bed, during the night and first thing when I wake up. Wow! How did my life lead to this? I use the argument that I am checking up on the news, especially since there are so many volatile situations going on right now. Keep your phone away from your bedside and allow for better sleep. The light emitted from electronic devices before bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep, suppresses levels of melatonin and can affect REM sleep and may reduce alertness the following morning.

We all seem to be in a bit of a slump lately but we need to wake ourselves out of it and create the life that we want even in the midst of a pandemic and a barrage of negative comments.

Now, I just need to follow my own advice.

My Heart Is Heavy

There is so much heaviness in the world. It feels like the weight of the world on my shoulders. Of course, listening to the media does not help matters. It only illuminates frustration regarding Black Lives Matter and—the violence. I couldn’t take my eyes off the violence—acts of looting, burning and destroying of our prominent cities. The most gruesome act was the police officer; his face will forever be etched in my mind as he systematically blocked the air from George Floyd’s lungs. What happened and is happening is all wrapped up in the gruesomeness of our times.

I do not condone the violence, which from the reports is, resultant of American extremist groups. I do not condone the restructuring of our society to appease the groups who are trying to violently destroy it and shape it according to their errant views. We must work together as a society with those who are peacefully promoting change.

The coronavirus came and changed our lives, but nothing could have prepared us for the civil unrest we’ve been experiencing. I have always valued people on their merits, not their skin color. The values and morals that people hold are the fabric that unites this great country. But like all systems, sometimes they break down or fail to run efficiently; there is always room for improvement.

I am one that likes to dwell on things and the stress has taken a toll on me. Sometimes I wallow in despair. I view live-streamed Mass regularly. A friend messaged me her parish’s Mass and the priest’s recommendation was to get away from the news and all of our devices that project them for a week in order to gain some peace. I gave it a try.

The first couple of days were hard and I was fearful—not so much from giving up the devices and what I might be missing—but from letting the previous weeks compounded fear have an effect on me. When you view the violence it does create a fearfulness. I suppose you could just ignore it but that feels like I wouldn’t be informing myself completely as to the time we are currently living in.

Praying the rosary and other prayers has given me comfort. As one that likes to be in control, I pray for the things that I can control and the things that are beyond my control. That is the only way I can remain sane. I do gain a sense of peace knowing that God is the one who is ultimately in control and is guiding this ship we call the United States of America and the world.

Socialization with Friends in the Era of Coronavirus

Life by Screen

Even though time seems like it is moving slowly it also feels like the world is changing rapidly. With many people staying home or working from home, the focus has been on our screens. We are using our screens for work, entertainment, social communication, news, shopping, health related apps, school lessons, etc. In some cases usage has gone up by as much as 200 percent.

Sometimes I feel like I live through my screen more than I do real life.

There has been a question circulating on Facebook about who really is your friend on social media. If you take an honest look, how many people do you socialize with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis in person with face-to-face encounters or with a phone call? Probably not very many. If you are working outside of the home (that expression sounds kind of funny), most likely you socialize with or are friends with your co-workers.

Does social media replace a cup of coffee shared with a friend at a café? I think not, but we are probably going to have to adjust.

I think society is desperate for meaningful friendships. Facebook makes it easier to connect with many people in different social circles and distant localities and our world is smaller because of it. Video chatting on mobile devices is also popular and on the new Rooms feature on Facebook Messenger you can arrange a Zoom-like call with your peeps. Zoom is used for business and classrooms and also for happy hour virtual gatherings or calls with family and friends. We have many options at our fingertips. Frankly, I am getting rather tired of screens, but they have become the norm in today’s society.

With the state of quarantining at home and socially distancing, I feel like we are being led to believe, through social and media channels, that video sharing applications will be the elixir that we need to combat loneliness. Even before the pandemic, there have been studies maintaining that more than two hours a day on social media by teens makes teens more lonely—not less lonely.

Friends vs. Acquaintances

Maybe we think the nearest screen is the answer to our yearning for human contact, but in fact, the human contact that we crave is being replaced by electronic stimuli and “pseudo” friendships. Our social connections are, more often than not, acquaintances that might not necessarily be the nurturing relationships we need. It takes time and effort to find a friend that provides the depth of friendship needed to deal with the intricacies of the human heart and with whom we can share our deepest authentic selves.

Perhaps I am being a little hard on the Facebook crowd, of which I am a part of, but I think it might be in one’s best interest to not look to the 500 or 1000 friends ( I have just over 100) on Facebook as a badge of honor—at least in terms of authentic friendship in the traditional sense. Consider yourself fortunate if you have two very close friends who you interact with in your day-to-day encounters.

More likely than not, the number of “friends” on social media are a social network, a way of staying connected in our different social circles or relying on a connection for a lead to employment or in the case of Zoom meetings, connecting with your class or classroom teacher or your work staff. I think that answers the Facebook question that is circulating. I’m betting most people are aware of the nature of social media. Still, it can sort of be like a competition to gain more and more connections.

Many people receive their news content from social media channels. My adult children have all but given up social media because it siphons precious time. I miss that they are not on Facebook so that we can share in photos of each other or ideas about certain things but I understand their need to manage time.

You’ve Got a Friend

I would say I am a lot like my mom in the department of making friends, where I can strike up a conversation with someone at the farmer’s market and feel a sense of kinship. By the way, my mother has made many “friends” because, most times, anyone that she talks to at church or the grocery store “becomes her friend.” I believe every moment (even on social media) is an opportunity to make a friend—at least for the moment, because—face it—it’s work to maintain a friendship. Thankfully, there are many ways to be a friend to someone.

Maybe it’s just me. I have used my Facetime feature on my phone to video chat with my family before and have been thankful for that feature. However, I do not use it all that much. Am I old-fashioned? Do I really need to see the person I am talking to? If I have not seen the person for a long time, I do like to see them but I don’t make it a rule to visually see them as we converse.

What I have noticed is even though I am on my screen more, I don’t really want to be. In writing content for my blog and social media posts, I also do create video postings. I feel OK with that but I think the new video chat room feature for communicating, at least for personal use, is something we will need to get used to, as the economy’s landscape, even if it opens soon, will be a stark cry from what it used to be.

20-20-20 Rule

Since we are spending more time looking at our computer, phone, or tablet screens our eyes can become really strained. Using the 20-20-20 rule can help to prevent this problem.

Every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Now, this doesn’t mean to look up from your computer screen to look at your TV screen when your home on your couch with your computer screen in your lap.

I will take it one step further and add that you should actually get up from where you are sitting for a small break while looking at something that is not screen-related. If that is not possible than the 20-20-20 rule should help with reducing eye strain and muscle tension. And even better than that, if you can, take a break from screens for a day or two.

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