Mass on a sacred summit

PHOTO: The Rev. Tim Farrell and his guide, Bedouin shepherd boy Rajab, Mount Sinai, 2009

I am pretty much homebound and miss the opportunities to travel as I once did. For that reason, I encourage the wandering vagabonds among my circle of friends and family to share their trip experiences.

Among my favorite chances to let my imaginings ride shotgun are those with my longtime friend, Father Tim Farrell, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathoic Church in Farmington, New Mexico.

I love it when Tim just gets in his car and drives with no particular destination in mind – and takes me along via email.

I am equally thrilled, though, to hear about his world tours with church members.

Just recently returned from the Holy Land, Tim shares his experiences with me and is allowing me to share with you. This will rank among my favorite “Travels with Tim:”

He writes:

I just returned from a three-week pilgrimage to Egypt, Israel and Jordan. It was an amazing adventure including a five-day cruise down the Nile (while reading Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile"); visiting the Cairo Museum with the King Tut exhibit (amazing!!); visiting the Pyramids, Sphinx, several temples and one of the 1 million mosques in Cairo; visiting all the holy places in Israel, including Mt. Carmel and Mt. Tabor; visiting Petra and Mount Nebo (where Moses saw the Promised Land for the first time), both in Jordan.

Let me tell you about my climb up Mount Sinai. What an adventure that was!

I had been climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt for about two hours, and it was now about 4 a.m. I looked up in the darkness and saw a tiny light which showed me where the summit was. It seemed impossibly far away to me. I wondered at that moment if I would ever make it to the top. I had grown so hot under my winter coat I was wearing that I was now carrying it. The path was treacherous in areas because of the large, sharp stones which stuck up in the darkness on the trail. I had a tiny flashlight which lit a couple of feet in front of me, but was, in the end, little help.

Others in our pilgrimage group had decided to ride camels up the winding, steep trail. I chose not to do so, not because I was insistent on making the trip to the top on foot, but because I had ridden a camel at the Pyramids and said then and there, "No matter what, I will never do this again." So, I continued to struggle up the pathway on foot.

At the next Bedouin tent, where they served coffee and tea to the pilgrims, I found our rag-tag group gathering. Our Bedouin guide, Ramadan, looked at me rather concerned, but said nothing. A couple of our group brought me water and asked if I wanted to get a camel. I must have looked really rough at that point.

I said, "No, I want to walk it all the way to the top."

I was told we were now right below the 750 "steps" to the summit, and I felt better. "Steps," at least in my mind, must have been like church steps. "Oh, that will be much easier."


The steps, it turned out, were not steps at all. They were "penitential" stones made by the monks long, long ago and were meant to be hard to climb. Well, I thought, what was the last two hours? They certainly weren't easy.

So, we caught our breath for a few minutes and then proceeded up the steps. My hips ached, my lungs were hurting, I was now growing cold from the sweat. Someone kind and caring took my coat and put it in their backpack. I struggled for a bit up the large steps, tripping here and there. I was so exhausted and at one point thought, "Am I going to die up here?"

Then came the moment when I decided "I can't go on, Lord. I've got to stop."

A voice in the darkness, the voice of a teenager, spoke up. "Let me help you, sir." This Bedouin shepherd boy - I later found out his name was Rajab - took my arm and with unbelievable strength he marched me up the steps. I was going to tell him I needed no help. Stubbornly, I wanted to do this all on my own. But, I gave in and allowed him to help me up the rest of the way. It was still quite a struggle, but we finally made it to the top of Mount Sinai.

The morning was now dark grey with tinges of light at the horizon.I set up for Mass with the help of many in our group. The cold wind blew, and I felt somewhat disoriented. But, I reached deep inside myself and found God's strength there. I asked that we sing "Morning Has Broken." We began to sing, "Morning has broken, like the first morning . . . " and suddenly gasps came from dozens of other pilgrims awaiting the dawn as the beautiful sun rose.

God has always had good timing.

We celebrated Mass on that sacred summit, and we rejoiced in our reaching the top where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. I was proud of myself as well. I was touched by the kindness of my helper, Rajab, who stood nearby mystified at what we were doing at the Mass. He smiled at me when I looked over and after Mass he came over.

"I take you back down the steps, yes?" he asked.

"Yes," I said with quiet certainty. "You take me back down."

Before I walked down with my heavenly-sent helper, I picked up a stone which had held down the corporal on the little altar we had used on the summit. It was in the form of a triangle. The Trinity, I thought, smiling.

God was on the mountain in Moses' time, and He was certainly there at that sunrise and morning Mass.

Like a tired, wobbly Moses, I walked down the penitential steps with Rajab. He left me at the bottom of the steps, and I walked the rest of the two and half hours to the bottom myself. The sun was bright, and as achy and exhausted as I was, I rejoiced at the new day.


Once more, Tim, great thanks! We’ve logged a lot of miles – on a college campus and via letters and emails - as you have taken me to places I’ve only dreamed of.


Frodo, looking for the Promised Land said...

We all need a little help sometime, isn't that the message Father Tim?

Frodo is proud that the song you sang was Cat Stevens. A work of art.

Anonymous said...


I love Cat Stevens. Actually I believe "Morning Has Broken" is an old Methodist hymn. At least I found it once in an old Methodist hymnal. How about that for jumping to conclusions? Now ask, "Why is a Catholic looking through Methodist hymnals?" The answer: "I have no idea, but you Protestants have some great hymns. So easy to sing too!"

I agree that Cat Stevens turned the song into a classic as only he could.

"We all need a little help sometime." Yes, Frodo, that is the message. How proud we are. "I'm going to do it myself, all by myself." Once I let Rajab take my arm, though, what a lifting of my burden and what a sense of peace I got.

Peace and all good.

Father Tim Farrell
Farmington, New Mexico

Debra said...

Thank you, I felt like I was walking up that mountian with Father Tim. (Wonderful picture of Father Tim and Rajab)What a blessing that trip must have been and still is showering blessings on those who have just read about it through you. Thanks for sharing....I am blessed.I love the song "Morning Has Broken" too.
I love you, Deb

BJA said...

Thanks, I needed that. Suddenly, I don't feel so weak and tired anymore...perfect timing.

Gregg Sutton said...

I got behind on your articles and enjoyed catching up. The article about Israel helped me sort out what’s going on there and thanks for adding the update. That move to the far-right doesn’t bode well for peace. Thanks to your friend Father Tim Farrell for letting us climb the mountain with him. We all have mountains to climb and it’s nice to know we can make it.

tom said...

This is an inspirational way to kick off a busy weekend.Yes I Can climb that mountain of chores.

Frodo, King of Wikipedia said...

Father Tim receives a special bow from the Hobbit for clarifying the background of "Morning has Broken." In truth, the lyrics and the music, as well as a poem or two, are all encased into the creation assembled by Cat Stevens (now a Muslim, as we nearly all know). Listen, Father Tim, to the Roman Catholic hymn "This Day God Gives Me," and see if you can't hum along, too.
Frodo himself had not fully considered the multi-cultural aspect of another piece of the art which Frodo chronicles as the creations of his generation.

Bill Sumrall said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip too, Father Tim.
We all need a little help on the Big Climb.
Greetings too from your ole college roomie, who remembers many a night watching Tom Snyder on "The Tomorrow Show" in Bond Hall.
As Tom used to say, "Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a good read. And thanks to Father Tim Farrell for sharing such a great experience.


Tiny said...

Father Tim, you covered a lot of territory in three weeks. Sounds like "Morning Has Broken" resonates with many of us.

Mass on the summit of of Mt. Sinai. What an experience! Now you can sing, "I stood on that rock (praise God) where Moses stood..." How we wish we could have been there with you.

Tiny confesses that her physical body moaned and groaned as she mentally climbed the mountain, not to mention her screaming feet and banged up shins.

Laughter rolled with your camel ride at the Pyramids and the vow to yourself. Sometimes we learn real quick! (Old memories of a trip to Egypt.)

Thank you for sharing your pilgrimage with us. You remind us that our real strength lies deep within each of us. May all of your days break "like the first morning."