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Thin Air
Photo: Galyna Andrushko
I’ve been fascinated lately with books on people who climbed Mount Everest, the highest mountain on our planet (29,035 ft.). Ever since 1852 when the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India discovered Sagarmatha (Nepali “goddess of the sky”) the eyes of mankind have been drawn to conquer the summit. Little did anyone know that it would take 101 more years, fifteen expeditions and the lives of 24 men before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would capture the peak on May 28, 1953.

Supplemental oxygen is often used at this high altitude where breathable air is one third that of sea level. Without it, brain cell damage is rapid and energy levels plummet. The body hungrily uses up its reserves to stay alive, especially above the “death zone” (above Camp Four at 26,000 ft.). Climbers become sluggish, their thinking gets blurred, and many have died by making “little mistakes” that have cost them their lives (stepping off a 3,000 foot cliff while not being “clipped in” to a safety line).

A new challenge was created when climbers claimed that with “acclimatization” one could reach the summit without supplemental oxygen. It required spending time at higher altitudes and then coming down to a lower base camp and then going back up again over a period of several weeks. Eventually, the body adjusted and the climber could make it without carrying the extra bottles of oxygen. But, it was still extremely fatiguing and harsh on the body.

Safe at High Altitudes?

Mankind is still fascinated by climbing. The challenges may not be physical (like climbing a mountain), but social or mental. We can be driven to reach our own summits of success, but we must be careful. We can learn from the mountaineers of Everest. The higher we go on our own journeys, the greater the risk of thin air. Can we be safe at such high altitudes?

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that being “lowly spirit” brings us closer to the high and holy God.

“For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15).

When you are climbing high, God can revive your breath. We come close to the Lord of heaven through prayer—the only safe way to breathe when you are in thin air.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.
Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

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