From the moment I saw Mount Rainier live and in person, its majestic beauty wowed me. Mount Rainier reminds me of God.
I had seen some fantastic natural beauty before viewing Mount Rainier. The Atlantic coastline is beautiful. Acadia and Shenandoah National Parks and Assateague and Cape Cod National Seashores were preserved because they are lovely. Before my move to Washington, I had been to Santa Fe and seen some of that terrain. as well as Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta in northern California.
The Mountain and God
Mount Rainier reminds me of God in several ways.
Strong and Solid
I see the mountain as strong, solid, reliable, and beautiful, characteristics I attribute to God as well. Even if I were a mountain climber, I would not be able to cover its enormous surface; I certainly could not catch each spot in various seasons. I know that humans similarly have only glimpses of God and could never understand God fully.
At the same time that the mountain is solid, Mount Rainier is a volcano. Given the current experience of people in Iceland and previously in Hawaii, areas with volcanos cannot be controlled by people. I find that God can work in surprising and unexpected ways that are difficult to predict. It has been many years since Mt. Rainier erupted. Lahar drills help people downstream practice the way they would seek higher ground.
Close and Distant
People in Western Washington ask “is the mountain out?” On a clear sunny day, it looms large and bright. During the winter, especially, clouds shroud it. And then sometimes only part of it is visible. My experience of God is similar. Sometimes I feel that God is close. Many times, I feel like God is distant or is maybe there but I am unsure. Mount Rainier reminds me that God is always present even when my busyness or self-focus create a separation.
The Mountain and Prayer
I moved to Tacoma, WA to teach high school theology. My first year I taught in a school that has an unobstructed view of the mountain. My first class began at 7:40 AM. Several times, my juniors went with me outside just to gaze at the mountain with the sun behind it for our morning prayer. (They kindly indulged the East Coast transplant.)
Returning to the Native Name for the Mountain
Before the arrival of Europeans in this area, indigenous people had used the mountain’s resources for 9000 years. They called it Mount Tahoma, which means “the mothers of all waters” in one translation. (Several rivers extend from the mountain’s glaciers to the surrounding areas.) Captain Vancouver, a British explorer, named the mountain after his best friend whose name was Pete Rainier. The Puyallup tribe and other tribes have lobbied to use the name used by native peoples in the area. Mt. Denali in Alaska used to be known as Mt. McKinley. I think that if they can change a mountain named after a president, it should occur when the mountain was named after Pete.
I hope that if we can restore the indigenous name, more people would recognize that Mt. Tahoma is a holy place. Mount Rainier certainly reminds me of God.