Friday, August 10, 2012
Finding God in the mountains
On Monday I will be leaving for Squaw Valley, CA. Squaw Valley is a ski area that hosted the 1960 winter olympics and overlooks beautiful Lake Tahoe. Mountains figure prominently in the life of Jesus. He was transfigured on Mt. Tabor, we know about his sermon on the Mount, and we know he often retired to the mountains to spend the night in prayer. Most recently, Pope John Paul II was also known to be a great lover of mountains. He would escape to ski in the Italian Alps and when a polish priest, used to take young people up into the mountains. Mountains figure prominently in the spiritual life. St. John of the Cross used the analogy of climbing a mountain to describe the spiritual life (the ascent of mount carmel). Mountains can be obstacles, or they can be majestic peaks that remind us of the grandeur of God. When one climbs a mountain there needs to be proper preparation for severe weather changes. Here in New England the place known with the worst weather in the world is Mt Washington. Every summer thousands of hikers will climb the mountain. As one gets into the higher elevations the protective layers disappear. One of the amazing things about Mt. Washington is the dramatic ascent above the tree line. Artic fauna becomes the norm. The hiker is exposed to the elements. So it is as we get close to God. Those things we use to hide from Him-addictions, bad habits, sin-all get exposed as one climbs higher. When it comes to the highest peaks in the world, it is always a team that makes the ascent (Mt Everest, k-2). None of us is an island. Not even God is a perfect solitude. He was never alone-He was always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need community, we need to work out our salvation with brothers and sisters who are "teammates". Mountains also afford another perpective. One of my favorite hikes is Cannon mountain, NH. As you stand over what once was the "old man on the mountain" you look down on I-93. You see how small the cars are. Those problems, those things that seem to keep troubling you, look quite small when seen from the heights. " To the heights" was the motto of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti. Blessed Pier Giorgio loved the mountains outside his home of Turin, Italy. He loved to hike. Mountains are the setting of some of the world's most famous monastaries. Saint Bruno founded the Carthusian order in the mountains of France. I spent some time at Monte Corona, an ancient Camaldolese monastery west of Assisi in Italy. Psalm 121 says so beautifully: "I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 95 says "Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; cry out to the rock of our salvation. Let us greet him with a song of praise, joyfully sing out our psalms. For the Lord is the great God, the great king over all gods, whose hand holds the depths of the earth; who owns the tops of the mountains. The sea and dry land belong to God, who made them, formed them by hand." In 1 Kings 19 there is the famous passage of the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel: "There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the Lord came to him, 'Why are you here, Elijah?' He answered: 'I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.' The the Lord said, 'Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord: the Lord will be passing by.' A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord-but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake-but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire-but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him 'Elijah why are you here?' He replied, 'I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.' 'Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus' the Lord said to him.' When you arrive, you shall aniont Hazael as king of Aram. Then you shall anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah, as prophet to succeed you.'" Looking for your marching orders? Want to realign yourself with God's purpose in your life? Go to the mountains. It is what Jesus did. If you cannot go to the mountains then find some quiet place in nature where you can hear the "Still, small voice." Be persistent and do not let the silence of God frighten you. He is waiting.