Climbing Mt. Sinai

I’m in Jerusalem!

We’ve been in Egypt the past four days. We were in Cairo the first two, and I felt like it was warp speed touring. We saw the Egyptian Museum, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and some other sites, but I didn’t feel like we spent enough time at any of them. It was interesting being in such a heavily Muslim city. It was interesting learning some about ancient Egyptian religions. (The pyramids are only a small part of a large area of ancient burial grounds that stretch for miles.)

From Cairo, we spent hours in the bus, journeying to the Sinai desert. The terrain of SinaiYesterday, those of us who were physically fit enough climbed Mt. Sinai. So far, and by far, (and no pun intended) that experience has been the high point of the trip. The time in Cairo was pure tourist stuff. The climb of Mt. Sinai was more of a spiritual pilgrimmage. (Of course, Biblical scholars are not entirely sure where Mt. Sinai is. The site we visited in the traditional site, with the Monastery of Saint Catherine at the base. The monastery dates to the 3rd century.)

I’ve ridden six centuries on my bicycle in the past three years. This climb up Mt. Sinai was much, much harder than riding a bicycle 100 miles. But what a moving experience to see the geography that is so important to the Old Testament stories and, at the top, to sit for a long time in silence, looking, listening.

The two important stories of Mt. Sinai are of Moses receiving the law from God (check out Exodus, especially beginning with chapter 19), and of Elijah fleeing to the mountain when Queen Jezebel wanted to kill him (check out I Kings 19 — Mt. Horeb is the same as Mt. Sinai). Yesterday, a professor from Southern Seminary read I Kings 19 andOn top of Mount Sinai paused for a loooooooong time after verse 12, giving us lots of time to listen for what Elijah might have heard.

I have never heard such silence. “A sound of sheer silence.” In that is God. (How can we possibly hear God, with all the noise in our daily lives?) And the geography is impossible to describe.

Overwhelmed by what our eyes were seeing, and by the experience of God’s presence in the silence of the desert mountain, one of the pastors on the trip said, “I owe God an apology. For years, I’ve been using words, telling people what God is like.” I said, “It’s like we try to make God small enough to fit our words.”

I hope you continue to follow my itinerary, and continue to pray for me on this pilgrimmage.

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!