“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.