By Amberly Page
Amid the dark mountains I sit and ponder. Im not alone. About 10 or 20 feet from me in every direction, classmates sit pondering the same enormousness. But I feel so far removed. I could be miles from anyone, solitary in the silence of Sinai. Why is it that in the immensity of the deserts the heavens seem closest, almost touchable? The sky is alight with stars. There are so many its hard to find patches of darkness, and its as if I could reach out and poke a finger through the holes they make in the gray tissue-paper sky. Larger than the mountains peaks, the white and gray-blemished moon rises, a glimmering spotlight on the lonely lives of the nomads who wander here, the monks and the meek who worship here, and the tourists who come to try their strength. The moonlight illuminates the jagged mountains, which seem larger in the night, but closer and almost softer as in shadow, like construction-paper triangles pasted onto the tissue-paper background.
The prophets are closer here. Abrahams tent seems to stand in the next valley. I can hear his camels braying and smell his fires. Moses is particularly present. The lights of the bunkhouses well be staying in could be the fires of Jethros family, where Moses learned his faith and his future. Early tomorrow well be tracing his traditional steps up the winding, desolate paths of the mountain, seeking an individual burning bush.
Around three the next morning we are dropped off at the base of the mountains. We tentatively begin to walk toward the sharply sloping path that leads into the pass. Without flashlights, we stumble along, led only by the moon and stars. Some lucky few grab the camels kept here by white-toothed Egyptian boys eager to help the Americansfor a feefind whatever it is they find at the top. Cameled or uncameled, we begin the ascent.
I choose to walk. At one point I look toward the peaks, and as my gaze falls upon a line of camels, riders, and guides silhouetted against the charcoal sky, I am suddenly time-warped. I see Lehi, camel-rope in hand, guiding his family through the night to the Red Sea. The feeling comes that ancients have tread these paths overseen by the same moon, perhaps on the same quest, and perhaps under some of the same circumstancesunsure of the length and difficulty of the journey and even unsure of the final destination. We all must sometime trek through the wilderness. We must know the loneliness, the emptiness, and the dependence.
We continue switchbacking up the gray-blue path, occasionally passing lighted lean-tos where ancient men with sun- and time-wrinkled faces sit. They smile to us as we trudge on. Near the top the camels are unburdened, and all make the final ascent on foot. We meet the sunrise equally, bare-souled as Moses was barefoot, with only hope in hand. This last push to the peak includes hundreds of stone steps winding inside the cliff. Even here the landscape maintains a softer, more reverent feel. We are unified in the grayness of the night as we push to finish the climb. We whisper words of encouragement to the angel-like forms moving before and falling behind on this Jacobs ladder to the peak.
Suddenly, we arrive. Whipped by the cold wind, we watch in awe as the curtain of night rises for the presentation of the sun. Finger-rays of light creep inch by inch toward us, and a line of blue mountains rises to meet the oncoming red, pink, orange, and yellow rays. And so the rays continue onward, calling forth the mountains to meet the light. When they are all in place, the sun itself appears, engulfing the world in a blaze of brilliant, pure light.
Atop the peak, I start to breathe again. I have watched the resurrection of the world and found myself reborn. I have come out of Platos cave, filled only with forms and shadows, to the brilliant realities of a sunlit world. The emptiness inside is filled by the life-giving light of the sun. I turn and begin my descent. My mind puts back on the shoes it removed to enter this holy ground, and I return to the world. And like Moses, I return different. I leave my burning bush with a renewed vision of who I am and of my God-given potential.