If I say the words “holiday break”, what image comes to mind? Lying on a beach? Reading a book on a sun lounger? Clinging on to the side of a volcano? Strangely, it was the third of these which describes what my husband and I ended up doing recently. It wasn’t in the plan at all – we’d booked a brief dose of winter sun, really for health reasons, anticipating some relaxation in the Canary Islands for a few days. But as we strolled around the holiday resort, what caught our attention was the skyline – the dark jagged shapes of volcanoes rising up into the sky all around us. We were surrounded by them, and we just had to try climbing them.
We set off cheerfully from the resort, bottles of water in a rucksack and hats to keep off the sun. As we neared the steep slopes we saw what you couldn’t see from a distance – they were completely covered with a loose layer of rocks. As we started to climb, our feet constantly slipped, and as you went higher you felt at every moment you were about to slide down, hurtling down the rock-strewn sides, unable to stop, the sharp volcanic rock cutting into your unprotected skin as you descended (shorts and teeshirt remember!)
Did I pray as I struggled up the rockface? (I’ve noticed how prayer is often forgotten when we need it most!) You bet! I prayed quite desperately, including all the scriptures about our feet not slipping, and angels being sent to look after us. I “reminded” myself and God (I bet he loves that!) about these as my knees trembled and I grabbed hold of any rock which looked like it might actually be attached to the side of the volcano. It’s at scary times like this that your faith gets a reality check, and you realise your belief that God is with you in your struggle is all you have to hang on to.
I inched my way upward, not daring to look down, until at last Dave announced we’d reached the top. The wind was gusting powerfully from the Atlantic (my hat had long ago been removed). I sat down quickly, frightened that I may be blown off. Be careful! I shouted to Dave as he stood taking photographs. Then something embarrassing happened; an old man and his wife arrived on the top. He was at least eighty years old, white hair, spindly legs etc, and she wasn’t much younger. Each had a long walking stick and seemed unperturbed by what they’d just done, standing confidently on the summit. They gazed across to the high narrow ridge that connected this volcano to another one. The wind continued to howl around us. I think we’ll try that too, the old man murmured. I was horrified – surely, they’d be blown straight off, but then I watched as they dug their tall walking sticks in. Words from the Good Shepherd psalm Thy rod and staff comfort me...no evil will I fear crossed my mind. Leaning on their staff, they could go safely where others couldn’t. A picture of faith in God, the Shepherd who goes with us wherever we go.
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." Isaiah 2:3