The afternoon assignment at a writers retreat is to take a walk and describe our observations. Leaving the rest of the group, I come upon a sign that simply says “Prayer Tower.” I can’t ignore the opportunity. Suddenly, my journey has added purpose.
I take a sharp left and begin my assent. A few steps, a landing, and then more stairs. Turn right, walk a bit, and climb some more, I wind my way up the hill. There’s another landing and then a U-turn, followed by more walking and more stairs: fifty steps and counting; soon seventy-five gives way to one hundred.
What will I find? Am I climbing a stairway to heaven? One hundred and sixteen steps later, I reach my destination: a platform, presumably for prayer.
The vista is grand, with the panorama of Lake Michigan. A few ships dot the horizon before me and an occasional car announces its presence behind me. All around are tree-covered sand dunes, dotted with homes and a string of condos.
With winter giving way to spring, naked tree branches creak to a brisk breeze. The biting wind tightens the once warm skin of my face. Friends walk along the beach, next to the frigid waters of wind-swept waves. Others, having grown tired or cold, are already retreating, seeking to recapture the warmth of inside.
The sight and sounds of birds abound, too many to count and mostly unknown to me. Gulls prevail with their plaintive caw, while a diligent woodpecker tap-tap-taps, either searching for food, forming a home, or seeking to attract a mate. Gray skies, decorated with blustery clouds, complete the picture.
God’s nature surrounds me. I stand in awe. I try to pray, but words allude me. Why do I need to climb a tower to pray, anyway? What insight does the Bible offer?
Moses ascends Mount Sinai and God’s glory descends. There he encounters God’s power (Exodus 24:15-18).
Jacob dreams of a stairway connecting earth with heaven. Angels traverse it; God stands at the top. Jacob proclaims the “awesome” place as “the house of God” and “the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:12-17, NIV).
Although encouraging, these verses, do not confirm that I need elevation to better connect with the Almighty.
In a less reassuring instance, Moses – denied entry into the Promised Land because of disobedience – is told to climb mount Nebo. From there he sees in the distance what God is withholding from him; then he dies (Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and Deuteronomy 34:1-6). This mountain view doesn’t symbolize connection with God as much as punishment for sin and a lost reward.
Other biblical accounts point to elevation as a place of temptation.
From Leviticus to Amos, the “high places” (mentioned 57 times in the NIV) are usually a site for idol worship and despicable heathen practices, providing an ongoing snare to God’s people, repeatedly distracting them from him.
The tower of Babel, intended as a monument that “reaches to the heavens” isn’t an attempt to connect with God as much as an arrogant tribute to aggrandizement. God quickly ends their brash scheme (Genesis 11:3-9, NIV).
Balaam has his issues with altitude, as well. Although God prevents him from cursing Israel when atop various mountain vistas and thereby keeps him from earning the rich rewards he desires (Numbers 22-24), things don’t end well for Balaam when a sword takes his life (Numbers 31:8). Jude simply labels this profit motive as “Balaam’s error” (Jude 1:11, NIV).
Jesus likewise encounters temptation in high places, with Satan twice attempting to use an elevated vantage to derail Jesus from his mission. Fortunately for us, Jesus prevails and the enemy retreats (Luke 4:1-13).
From my hilltop perspective, I don’t just see nature and friends. I also spot remnants of other activities. Bottles, mostly broken, suggest this place of prayer gives way to drinking and revelry in the nighttime hours. Other trash is more disparaging. I see that SB climbed a tree to carve his “forever” love to ND, signified with a plus sign inside a heart. I don’t want to consider the ramifications any further. Suddenly I don’t feel quite so close to God. This high place is as much hideout as haven.
Although I encounter God in the prayer tower, I pray little. But that’s okay. I can pray anytime, anywhere and God hears me just fine. After all, he’s always with me (Psalm 73:23).See Code