Psalm 131 (Psalms on the Trail)

Psalm 131

The rock crevice above is on the AT in New Jersey and is called the Lemon Squeeze.  I descended through it last week where at the top the backpack had to come off in order to fit through.  Notice I’m smiling.  But there were many other rocks not so fun.  In fact, there was this one particular rock on an earlier day….

I was stuck.  My fingers held onto a crevice in a boulder that I must climb.  My feet tried in vain to find a toe hold on the rock’s gritty and almost-but-not-quite vertical surface. Nothing to pull or grab onto above me.  The only way forward was to move my body about four feet to the right, fingers grasping and following the crevice until there would be a slight ledge where my legs could push my body up and over the boulder.  “Pull your feet up,  push your butt out and walk yourself with fingers and feet across to the ledge,” said my hiking buddy from above.  Only I am scared of heights and therefore petrified at the thought of feet pushing my body away from the rock, only holding on by not very strong fingers.  Meanwhile a 30 pound pack on my back wouldn’t mind pulling me backwards and down.  So I froze. The drop below me was about 6 feet onto rocks.  So I hung where I was.  Too afraid to believe and follow my buddy’s directions.

I have to try, I told myself.  Stay calm and start moving.  Fear would not let me lift myself away from the rock to maneuver a crab crawl.  So, hugging close to the rock, I began instead to scoot and wriggle my body inch by agonizing inch, fingers grabbing little by little along the crevice, toes trying to lift the weight.  In mercy my buddy reached down when he could and grabbed onto the top of my pack, relieving the weight so that I could more easily scrape into a position where my foot found the small protruding ledge.  He pulled, I pushed hard with my leg and crawled up to safety.  A glance back down was dizzying.  Did I climb that?  But worse was the knowledge that I had run into a challenge that I couldn’t handle alone.   I was attempting to do something that a woman my age who did not have a lot of upper body strength probably shouldn’t be doing.  What in the world made me think I could hike the AT?  I was considerably humbled the rest of the day, glad to crawl into my tent where I read these words from Psalm 131.

O Lord, I am not proud, I have no haughty looks.

“I do not occupy myself with great matters, 

or with things that are too hard for me.” 

Reflecting back on my freezing fear, I also remembered the moment when I knew I must stay calm and move forward the best I could.  The irony was that the very rock that exposed my fear was the rock that I clung to most tightly.  I recall the comforting sun-backed warmth of the rock against my body.

“But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.”

There was much rock scrambling, climbing, descending, tripping, bruising, falling for the ten days in NJ and NY to the Hudson river. Of the 700 or so AT miles I have walked over the last few years, this was the hardest by far the  most difficult section to date.  I am humbled.  I have learned to walk more carefully with full concentration. I have learned to accept help.  And slowly my confidence and strength returned by the end of this 58 mile section.  I may be slower, clumsier, and not as strong as most hikers who pass me by, and I may need help sometimes, but I’m not ready to give up. Why?  Because I have seen God teach me how to trust moving forward (albeit carefully) inch by inch.

“[Elaine], wait upon the Lord,

from this time forth forevermore.”  Psalm 131