“From the Mountain”
We may be “river” folks here at Farnham and St. John’s, but this week we turn our eyes to the mountains.
Why the mountains this week? Because this coming Sunday our Gospel passage offers us a
mountain time “high”. As we find Christ and three of his disciples on one as we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus. Something about that mountain air giving Jesus a glowing appearance. And giving the disciples with him an experience of clarity. There is something about a mountaintop offering a 360 degree vision of the world around and below. There is something about mountain air offering a clarity, a crispness that the heavier moister air of the lowlands, the land at lower sea levels, seems to mask. Mountains offer the opportunity to see things more clearly.
Mountains are so “biblical.”
On the third day of creation. God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” (Gen 1:9). I like to think that when the dry land appeared it wasn’t just a muddy flatland that emerged as the waters receded but a majestic mountain range.
Biblically, the ark rested on one (Mt. Ararat) after the one hundred fifty-day rainfall which
brought a flood of Biblical proportions. A flood which could have wiped out humanity and all living things. But then God’s compassion rose higher than the waters and caused the flood waters to recede and the ark came to rest on a mountaintop.
Then there is the story of Moses and the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai. God calls Moses up the mountain to receive God’s word to be spoken to God’s people and then lived forward by them in their covenantal relationship with their Creator. Speaking of words, in the Gospel good news of Christ’s life, there is the Sermon on the Mount as the Gospel of Matthew offers his version of Jesus’ Beatitudes. Words of comfort and restoration to a people seeking both as they spill out of the lower land and come to the hills.
Mountains are places of refuge and retreat. In last Sunday’s gospel after Jesus has been
surrounded by those seeking healing in the little town of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, he seems overwhelmed and exhausted. That evening he goes out to “a deserted place’ into those hills that ring the northern Galilee around the sea of Galilee. There Jesus found peace; also clarity on the way forward for him, his next steps in his beginning ministry. People have always sought the calm of hills and the “high places” to reach out to God and to be reached by God – to hear the voice of God.
“I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where will my help come?” The Psalmist’s answers his own question: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
It is so natural to seek out special places in creation when we are desperate for help, for clarity, for discerning a way forward, or a way through tough times. For when we need comfort and assurance. In my life, I admit that places with water (the ocean, the river) have been essential “go to” places for refuge, for calm, for peace, for when times are confusing, and for times when I have needed comfort and sought even some degree of serenity of spirit. However, the mountains have also offered something unique when I have needed some or all of the above. As a child remembering vacation times in the mountains, summer camp times in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, later as a young adult finding strength in hiking mountain trails deep in mountain forests or following a mountain stream carving its own path around boulders in its way, enriching the soil beneath and beside it. The mountain has its own song, the wind in the trees,
the rushing streams – a song that doesn’t lull, but that seems to offer a deep and powerful energy that lifts the spirit. And I have learned lessons from the hawks that rest on powerful and unseen wind currents that weave through the open spaces so high above the valleys. Mountains are landscapes that reach up to the heavens as if to seek the face of God.
I now spend time, from time to time, in the mountain landscape around Boone, N. C. where some of my family live. It offers respite and I find my energy refreshed and renewed. There is something about feeling very embraced, safe, and protected when I am among mountains. They seem immovable, timeless, protective, comforting, like perhaps what at times in my life, I have needed from God.
Recently, I spent a week in those mountains, because that’s where I could finally get my COVID shot. It was a time of reflection, back over this past year. A year in which we could not make sense of it all – all the upsetting of life, the dis-ease taking it over, the stress and anxiety over the health and safety of those we hold dear, wondering where and when our help would come. Wondering how and when life as we need to live it in abundant and healthy ways would be restored. During my time there Psalm 121 slipped softly, gently, simply into my consciousness, my heart, my prayers, as I watched light, snow, sleet, wind, night, day move around the mountain outside the windows of the place in which I was sheltering. A mountain which neither slumbered nor slept but watched over and through it all.
In a couple of weeks we will begin a study time with the Psalms and prayer. I offer below the words of Psalm 121. Offered for your prayer and reflection. May its words, its message sustain you, nourish you, calm you, comfort you, grace your life right now and in the days to come. As you pray it may it bring you peace, as it has me.
By God’s Amazing Grace, may it be so.