I am blessed to live in a place where we can easily go up to mountains. Daily we can look on them and be reminded of how small we are and how mighty they are. Daily I can gaze at their beauty, take pictures of them in different light, see how they change in snow and cloud. Mountains are amazing. They make you remember the Creator and remind you to be amazed to see all that he has made.
But I have also discovered that mountains are more than just something to observe. They are something we interact with. Something we seek to conquer. Something we explore. Something we appreciate.
They are also someplace we can go when life stops making sense. When bad things happen. When life falls apart. You can go to the mountains.
And, in the case of faith, when church falls apart, you can go there to worship. Up on the mountain. No building required. No program. No instruments required (though certainly welcome). No sermon. No altar.
Because what you need is right there. You need to know that God can hear you. That he is around. That he is present. And mountains help you do that. Mountains make great worship assistants.
Right now I’m working with a small community of believers and a few weeks ago we went into the mountains together. We experienced the drips of rain from the piñon trees and the sound of falling snow on our tents. In the middle of the night I walked through a cloud on my way to bathroom, and watched that cloud roll out over the valley in the morning. We were enveloped by the smoke and heat of morning campfire where we cooked our sausage and warmed up our limbs. We were surprised by sunburn from sitting in the sand and playing in the stream.
We go to the mountains because somehow we’re closer there. Not in a “God is up there and we’re down here way” – though many of us have been trained to think that way – but in a God is here and we are too.
In community, in beauty, we find the strength to enter into church again. While wounds heal. While scars are forming. While scabs are still visible.
But those are normal things to have on a mountain. A scraped hand, a bruised leg, a sunburnt face. Visible pain in the midst of beauty and majesty. It doesn’t seem so weird to wrestle with my hurts when the rest of my senses are overwhelmed by provision, hope, beauty, new creation, and life.
We see this natural response to the proximity of mountains in the person of Christ. He went to the mountains many times; to pray, to escape, to reflect. After feeding the 5000, he went up to the mountains to pray (Matthew 14:23) As the Pharisees were discussing what they would do with Jesus, he went to the mountains to pray and stayed there all night (Luke 6:12). The transfiguration took place on the mountain with his closest friends present – Peter, James and John. (Luke 9:28) Again, after meeting the needs of people, he went to the mountains (John 6:3).
I think the other mountain passage that we are all familiar with is Elijah fleeing persecution in I Kings 19. And while I get irritated with how this story is sometimes used, I think it still reflects the need to go to the mountain.
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD ” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (NRSV)
Sometimes when nothing else is making sense, when hearing the voice is hard, going to mountain provides a way for us to hear the things that we need to hear, and to pay attention to what the voice of God is saying.
Maybe you don’t have mountains. But more than likely you have something – a park you love, a lake, a stream, a stand of trees, or an open prairie. Wherever you can go to feel present and feel presence.
These are not esoteric feelings, or random meanderings, these moments are about finding ways to be present with God when it seems like we just can’t pull it off. In the depth of despair, in the confusion of anxiety, in the darkness of depression, in the pain of abandonment, in the overload of daily life, in the midst of loss or hurt, in these places we can find God. In his creation. Where we are reminded of his presence that seems so very far away.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore. –Psalms 121
He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth– the LORD God Almighty is his name. –Amos 4:13