“Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.” John 6: 3
“When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” John 6: 15
A year ago I was just a few weeks from flying off to the Himalayas to study the place that mountains play in religious literature and religious experience. My goal was to ride to Everest Base Camp on my mountain bike with six other adventurous souls.
It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to recognize that mountains play a significant role in the Bible: Mt. Sinai where the Ten Commandments were received; Mt. Tabor, the apparent site of the Transfiguration; the Sermon on the Mount; and Mt. Zion, among many others. Mountains also play a significant role in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam, and Native American mythologies.
Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately) the Everest trip became an exercise in survival rather than an opportunity to sit back and study religious experience and literature. The fires in Southern Oregon last summer where I was living at the time completely halted my training a month before, the smoke created an allergic reaction and an ear infection, my bike and equipment didn’t show up in Nepal, and then in my weakened state I ended up with altitude sickness. I did reach my destination, Everest Base Camp, but was physically and psychologically crushed and had no room for the luxury of continuing education research!
But I digress. The gospel lesson for this coming Sunday very casually mentions that Jesus retreated to the mountains twice in the short span of this text—once to be with his disciples and once to get away from everyone else to enjoy some solitude.
What is it about the experience of mountains that seems to find its way into our religious literature? What is about them that draws us to their lofty grandeur in search of spiritual nourishment and sacred experience?
As many of you know, I spent much of July on vacation and one full week in the Cascade Range. On one of the magical hikes walking next to a glacier-fed stream while gazing at a snow-covered volcanic peak, I remember thinking, “This is worship. This is as rich as any Sunday morning experience in church.” When I returned from vacation, I looked up the word worship to see if there was some connection between my revelation that day and the generally accepted definition of worship. I discovered that there was!
One definition was that worship is “the feeling or experience of reverence or adoration…” That was it. What I had felt that day was deep reverence for the beauty of the Cascades, gratitude for the richness of life, adoration for the Maker who was responsible for all this goodness, and pure awe for a landscape that defied normal explanation.
It gave me a little greater understanding of the spirituality of the Pacific Northwest. It is not uncommon to hear from our religiously unaffiliated family, friends and neighbors that they “meet God on the trail” or while sitting on a rock overlooking civilization 4,000 feet below. Our Pacific Northwest neighbors often say they are “spiritual but not religious” meaning that they find the Sacred in places other than a church building and often in the forests, along the streams, and on top of a mountain.
We are a people who base our lives on a Biblical narrative that witnesses to the presence of God in Jesus Christ.
Some of us this Sunday will go to church to hear about this Jesus withdrawing to the mountain to be by himself. Some of us will just go to the mountain.
And all of us will worship.
Appreciated your comments on “mountain” experiences. Over my lifetime I have been fortunate to backpack the Sierras, the Cascades, the Wallowa’s. The scenery, the weather, the scents, the diversity – especially the diversity. In the mountains and the wilderness we are outside the box.
I have been blessed with being the Stated Supply at Trout Lake now for about four years; each year on an annual stated supply contract. Cradled as we are by Mt. Adams looming just a few miles to the north, your post this week reminds me of the constant tension I feel within my own soul over an Every Sunday job and the desire to just take a few weekends to worship in the mountains, as you say. Three weeks of vacation and two weeks of study leave a year not-with-standing (even for a part time stated supply like myself – thank you Trout Lake and Presbytery!), I am also reminded that this very tension tips most SBNR folks away from the church building and out into nature (where I too long to be!). The basis question for me, then, becomes: how can the church survive? The “call of the wild,” as I will call it, is turning into a very strong undertow.
But then, Christianity itself seems to be drifting along on a current almost too strong to withstand, but also almost too strong not to allow its pull to take us into realms of Spirit that have been strange to us over the many long centuries of the Reformation. If indeed a New Reformation is occurring, and if the late Phillis Tickle and her cadre of thinkers are right, then being SBNR is just the tip of the iceberg – for all organized faiths. It makes me wonder what the next few decades will bring – and what manner of Believer there will be on the other side…of a different sort of mountain.
Thank you for your thoughts!
Scott, Yes! There is a reason I write under the title “Holy Breadcrumbs.” I find myself committed to following the crumbs that are dropped along the path not knowing exactly where this New Reformation will take us, yet trusting the One who seems to keep teasing us into this uncertain and hopeful future. What a gift that Trout Lake has Mt. Adams right there and that Mt. Adams has the Trout Lake congregation!