If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.”(Psalm 95:7-9)
Yosemite National Park is a favorite place of mine. Over the years, I have had the pleasure to visit the park at various times of the year and discover the dynamic beauty of its redwoods, waterfalls and mountains. I’ve been on retreat with the Young Adult Group, climbed the top of Half Dome, and swum, briefly, in the glacial waters of Lake Vogelsang. With such affection for the park, my interest was peaked recently, when I saw the story of the two young rock climbers who scaled the face of the El Capitan. Seven years in the planning, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson tackled their lifelong dream: to scale the sheer wall, or Dawn Wall, using nothing but their own skill and strength. Ropes would be there to catch them, but that was it. Again and again, they were told it was impossible to scale the 3,000-foot rock face, yet in less than three weeks, using only their hands and feet, they completed the first “free climb” of the Dawn Wall. As they basked in the glow of their incredible achievement, they were asked what message this might send to the world. Jorgenson said, “I hope people take the time to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will, and use this project as an example of what you can achieve when you dream big and don’t give up.”
Dream big and don’t give up. In the Psalm this weekend, we are reminded of the forty-year desert wanderings of the Israelites. After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the reception of the Law on Mount Sinai, the Jewish nation is dreaming big. God promises blessings, legacy and land and, driven by theses promises, it takes them a matter of weeks to reach the cusp of the Promised Land. Yet as the travels become more daunting near their goal, the people waver. When they reach Meribah (or Massah), they are worn out, hungry and without water. And they give up. They complain against God, plot to violently revolt against Moses and agitate to return to Egypt. Their big dreams collapse for lack of resolve. What might have taken a matter of weeks is extended into forty years, as the people learn that God’s promises can only be achieved through perseverance.
As we begin February, I am reminded of the big dreams of the New Year, which is often a time to make new resolutions or set specific goals. Research indicates that more than half of the population makes a concerted effort in the New Year to start fresh on an anticipated project. Yet, within a month 92% of those who made such resolutions have given up. In fact, fewer than 5% of folks who make New Year’s resolutions see them through to the next year. Though there are many reasons why resolutions fail, perhaps the most significant is that when we initially fail in our resolution, we can easily give up. Last year, I eagerly attempted to read the Gospels through flocknote.com/gospel (I had done the same with the Catechism the year before). Since I spend some time answering emails, I thought it would be a good way to have a prayer break in the midst of the busy routine. I signed up at flocknote.com/gospel and began to get a short text of the Gospel sent automatically to my email each day. For the first few weeks, it was great. No matter when I read the passage for the day, inevitably the words or actions of Christ gave new meaning and application to particular pastoral situations that arose. It was as if the daily readings were speaking to me directly. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. I’d put off a day here and there, and then would rationalize, “well even if I skip St. Mark’s account, I’ll catch up in St. Matthew.” Soon enough, I had abandoned the goal completely. So this year, then, I’m back to it again, only with this resolve: even if I miss a day here or there, my resolve is not to give up on the overall project.
Each day is new, every sunrise a fresh opportunity for God’s word to work as a moment of grace. Even though we’re a month in, I invite you to join me in going through the Gospels together if you are so inclined. In fact, whatever your New Year’s resolution (and it’s not too late to formulate one!), the challenge of this week is to continue to dream and don’t give up. The mountains of our lives are scaled not by uncommon virtue but simply through the grace of perseverance.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.