A Mountain To Climb Chapter 5: Pray For A Mountain

This is where things really start getting interesting. Either that or it sets the groundwork for the interesting part of the story, can’t remember. Either way, this is when the action really begins.

We open with Mrs. Lindsay petting “one of her cats.” How many cats does this woman have? We are also told it is June, so quite a few months have passed since chapter 4.

Pearl comes in, and after exchanging pleasantries, Pearl tells her mother that there’s to be a corn roast on Saturday night, and that it’s the kind of event boys invite girls to.

Later in the chapter, we will be told that the principle disapproves of crushes and dating. So, why on earth are events like this held?

Pearl tells her mother that she’ll have to wait and see who will ask her to the corn roast. She hasn’t spoken to Arthur in two days, but that particular day he plants himself directly in her path and refuses to let her walk by.

There Pearl, you see how annoying that is?

“And where have you been keeping yourself?” he asked. His at-last-I’ve-found-my-long-lost-friend attitude almost made Pearl laugh, and her anger melted.

That….would just piss me off even more.

“Busy with classes,” she told him.

“Well, how about next Saturday night? Will you go with me to the corn roast?”

Just then the bell rang. She nodded an embarrassed “Yes,” and hurried to her algebra class.

I have to admit, it is kind of immature for Pearl to avoid him for 2 whole days. What she really needs to do is talk to Arthur about what happened, tell him that it really upset her. Arthur could then tell her he’s sorry, and that she upset him too. They could both apologize and move on with their lives.

That doesn’t happen, ever. Instead Arthur and Pearl just… ignore the issue.

And I don’t think that’s ok. This is something that really bothered Pearl. I’m not saying she shouldn’t speak to him ever again, or let him take her to the corn roast. I am saying that this is a shitty foundation on which to build a relationship. Not that I know much about romantic relationships, but I’ve always read that they should be built upon a foundation of open and honest communication. Which sounds like good advice to me, at any rate.

When Pearl tells her mother, Mrs. Lindsay cautions Pearl against getting too involved, saying that her schoolwork is the most important thing right now.

As Pearl hurried back to the dorm for evening worship, she wondered what her mother would say if she knew about all the “incidental” meetings she and Arthur had had. No real dates of course. The school principle did not approve of “puppy love,” as he called any association between the young men and women.

Wait, hold on, slow down. What? Look. I kinda sorta get having this attitude as a high school principal. High schoolers are still children, after all, and many conservative religious people do not approve of children having romantic relationships. (I’m not saying this is right, mind you. Just normal in the Adventist community.)

But why, on Satan’s white earth, are you trying to prevent grown ass men and women from getting involved with each other? As every good Adventist knows, an SDA college is an ideal place to meet your future wife/husband. I know this because my dad sat down and had this talk with me after having flipped out when I told him I didn’t want to go to an Adventist college. In fact, I imagine that most Adventist parents would tell you they met in college. Usually an Adventist college. But we’ll talk about Adventist courtship in another post.

The corn roast was all Pearl had hoped it would be. She and Arthur talked and laughed as the bonfire flamed.

Yup. Totally ignored the issue.

There’s a few more paragraphs about how Pearl and Arthur like each other. It’s all very sweet, I’m sure.

As the school year passed, Pearl became more aware of how lucky she was. God had given her a goal to work toward, good Christian friends, and a happy life. She got along well with both teachers and students, and was often called upon to help in extracurricular activities.

Pearl is the perfect Mary Sue. From Wikipedia:

A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities, sometimes with the intent to inspire young or marginalized people and show them that even they can have as great of a potential as leading characters. Often this character is recognized as an author insert or wish-fulfillment.

Except that Pearl was a person who actually existed. I wonder, though, exactly how much liberty Ms. Maxson took with the story. To some extent I wouldn’t blame her–sometimes a little bit of creative license is necessary to move the story along or make the story interesting. But I wonder how true it is that Pearl is just this perfect character who gets along with everybody and is very helpful. I’m willing to acknowledge that Pearl was very popular and did try to help out a lot, but I wonder if, in reality, she was a bit more…. well, if maybe she had her unlikable moments.

I can’t know the truth, so we will not dwell upon this for long. In fact, we’re ready to move on.

As part of the student assossiation, Pearl is asked to help out with a week of prayer. My Adventist/Ex Adventist audience already knows what that means. You guys can skip the next 3 paragraphs.

So, a week of prayer is actually better entitled, “week of sermons.” (or, in my case, “week of ‘sex ed.'” All Adventist schools have them. Apparently my elementary school had one, though all I remember from it is the jar of sand with the shells. I much better remember the ones from Academy. Our morning classes at Academy were shortened by ten minutes, to allow for a 30 minute sermon between the last class of the morning and lunch. Then at night we’d have an hour long sermon in the chapel with the pastor, instead of worship separately in our dorms. A visiting pastor was nearly always flown in, and received some kind of compensation, usually in the form of gift cards to the local restaurant. Which was taco bell…..

In any case, these sermons lasted a week, with the visiting pastor also being responsible for preaching the sermon for Friday night vespers and church the next day.

This whole thing was supposed to be a time of spiritual reflection and revival. Much soul searching and prayer was to be done… We will talk later about Weeks of Prayer and the effects various ones have had on me. For now, all you need to know is that they are more accurately titled, “week of sermon” and that, depending on the speaker’s pet topic, have the potential to be either very boring or very awkward. Like that one penis talk…

Ahem. I am getting side tracked.

We are told that the week of prayer  meetings went well,the students were enjoying the sermons, and Pearl is very happy.

And then we get to the paragraph that kicks off the main plot of the book. Yes in chapter 5.

During the Thursday evening service one sentence struck her. “If you find your life humdrum-no ups, no downs, no temptations, no victories–then pray for a mountain,” the pastor said. “The Christian life is not stagnant. It must progress upward and upward and upward.”

If you are content and enjoying life, as is Pearl, clearly it is because something is the matter with you spiritually.

The person who donated the book to be was horrified by all this. They said that they felt guilty that they didn’t want to pray for a mountain, but that they also didn’t want something horrible to happen to them.

Christianity, at least as presented in this book, is kind of a mindfuck.

During the weeks that followed, Pearl thought of the pastor’s challenge. Did she really want trials–which she finally decided were the mountains–in her life? Was she strong enough to meet them and come out victorious?

A lot of mental agonizing over basically nothing. Welcome to Adventism.

The days passed pleasantly. PEarl did fairly well in her lessons, she liked her work and her surroundings, her friends were sincere, her mother was happy. Waht more could she awnt?

Nothing, if that idiot pastor hadn’t planted the idea in her head that she needed trials.

We are told that, during the exams, Pearl forgot about this mountain business. Good. If only it had stayed that way. Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered because what happened next would have happened anyway. But I am getting ahead of myself.

From the middle of December until early March was vacation. During this break most of the college students worked in one of the college industries, which included broom shop, press, sawmill, laundry, furniture factory, and kitchen. ….

Pearl  enjoyed the relaxed astmosphere of vacation. Even though the principal was just as strict about boy-girl relationships, it didn’t bother her.

Surprise plot twist: it doesn’t bother her because she’s a lesbian.

Just kidding. That’s not going to happen.

One day [the principal] told the students that he would really put his foot down on any “puppy love” affair.

“That might really mean something,” Arthur said later, “considering that the principal wears size eleven shoes!”

Pearl laughed.

So, the mountain, er, trial, that Pearl will have to climb/overcome is the fact that she and Arthur are having a secret love affair that the principal can’t find out about or he will expel them?

I wish. That would make for a better book.

When school started in March of 1937

Seriously? You’re waiting this long to tell me in what year all this is occurring? The note at the front of the book said to judge this book by its publication date of 1976. It said nothing whatsoever about this story taking place 4 decades earlier.

The disclaimer at the front of the book was basically worthless.

Pearl’s classes start, and everything goes well, until something in history class has to do with mountains.

Pearl suddenly realized she had forgotten the week of prayer’s challenge–pray for a mountain. The more she thought of it, the more she realized that her life was flowing along too easily. Reaching for her Bible, she found Philippians 4:19. “My God shall supply all your need.”

Let’s look this up. In context. Philippians chapter 4:

15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

It sounds like, in context, God is talking about supplying all of the needs of one who gives generously to others, specifically Paul. Is it a bit of a stretch to think it could apply to Pearl in her situation? Maybe, maybe not. It sounds like, right now, God is supplying all her needs. Maybe, if there is a god, this was his way of telling her: “you don’t need to pray for a mountain. I have already given you all that you need. Praise be unto me.”

Instead, Pearl takes this verse to mean that, since God’s already gonna give her anything she needs, what does she have to lose?

“What do I have to be afraid of?” She asked herself. She dropped to her knees

In the middle of history class?

and committed her life more completely than ever before. She told the Lord that if there was a mountain for her to please send it.

We are then told that Pearl prays this same prayer every day for about a month.

For more than a month that same prayer passed her lips every day, until it became almost an obsession. And then the answer came-

That’s the end of the chapter. Points to the author, this was a good note to end on.

Some things I want to touch on:

Pearl has been nearly obsessed with this for…about a month before something happens. It’s not like she prayed the prayer once and then something happened. She had to literally beg for it. That to me either suggests that Pearl was just going to keep praying this prayer until she hit a little bump in the road that she could call her mountain. (The fact that it happens to be a tragedy instead of a bump is unfortunate.)

There’s 2 more reasons I dislike this idea. One of which is that it doesn’t allow Pearl to be content with her life. And she has been. She likes her school, she likes the teachers, she likes the students, she’s involved in campus organizations. Pearl is happy, but she’s not allowed to just be happy. Life so rarely hands us situations in which we are truly happy that in my opinion we should take the time to enjoy these moments when they happen. Pearl isn’t allowed to do that. She must find a way to make herself unhappy, because it is somehow meant to help her have a closer relationship with Jesus.

This has the unfortunate side affect of making Jesus look like a complete asshole.

Mountains in life will come as a matter of course. You do not have to pray for them.

The second problem that I have with this “mountain” idea is that Pearl’s life is “hum drum.” Because of this, she is supposed to pray for a mountain so she can climb it. But what about after the mountain? I mean, this incident that happens does eventually end. What then? Did Pearl’s life return to normal? Does it go back to, “no ups, no downs, no temptations, no victories?” Does it go back to “hum-drum?” Does she have to pray for a mountain again? And again? And again? For the rest of her life?

I mean, the whole “pray for a mountain” thing just doesn’t make sense.






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