THIS PAST JULY, I set off to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, with three friends. The summit was an altitude of 19,340 feet, and we were to spend at least five days on the mountain. Many close friends were concerned, warning me of the debilitating effects of altitude sickness and advising me to take different medicinal precautions to mitigate the harmful effects of the experience. As a lifelong student of Christian Science, I chose instead to prepare for the journey spiritually—to see it as an opportunity to "climb, with joy, the heights of Mind" (Violet, Hay, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 136) and to know that in God's spiritual universe, the kingdom of heaven, there could be no negative change of altitude. I worked to understand my immunity from the physical laws that claim to govern our everyday experience.
The first three nights of the climb I was unable to sleep and grew very frustrated, falling into the trap of believing that I needed material rest for strength. I used that time to pray for my team and me. I prayed to better understand that God was our strength and energy and that He was guiding us every step of the way. Contemplating the magnitude of the promise and comfort of the truth in Psalms that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (46:1) got me through the dark hours.
On the third evening, we had to leave in the middle of the night to attempt the summit to have enough time to reach the top and return back to our camp before nightfall. (That day involved an overall altitude change of 11,000 feet and required a full day and night's hiking. Along with that, the temperature fluctuated between 20 and 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.) I concentrated on a Bible passage in that week's Christian Science Bible Lesson, "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Mic. 6:8). Since I had the Bible Lesson with me, I shared it and other passages with my teammates. We all agreed that we could certainly walk humbly—in fact, that was about all we felt we could do! Fatigue and symptoms of altitude sickness were already evident.