Holy Everything: 'Going to the mountains is going home'
Mountains are majestic and mesmerizing. Their appearance inspires feelings of grandeur and awe. They are captivating, and their presence is a consistent feature of both fiction and non-fiction writing across time and culture.
Naturalist and wilderness preservation advocate John Muir once said, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home." To which I'd say, "Amen!"
Poet Mary Oliver also wrote about dreams of escaping to the mountains: "Sometimes I grow weary of the days, with all their fits and starts. I want to climb some old gray mountains, slowly, taking the rest of my lifetime to do it." Amen to that as well!
Mountains represent a place that is set apart from the rest of life. Perhaps you've spent time in Colorado, Idaho, Montana or the other mountain states. One of my most memorable mountain moments took place in Alaska few years ago. My mom, Pam, and I were heading out of Anchorage in our rental car traveling south on the Seward Highway. The mountainous landscape was entirely breathtaking. It was a stretch of roadway unlike anything I've ever experienced.
Mountains play a significant role in the Bible, too, so it makes a fitting stop on the fifth week of our Lenten series about the sacred spaces of Jesus' ministry. So far we've highlighted Jesus' time in the wilderness, church buildings, cities, and homes. Now we climb through his mountain experiences.
During Lent, this column ventures into the Bible in a way that isn't as commonplace for Holy Everything during the rest of the year. If you have your Bible handy, please grab it and follow along, but don't feel any pressure. Today we'll be paging into Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which are the first four books of the New Testament, which is located toward the back of the Bible.
Now let's get into our mountain climbing! In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus preaches what is commonly referred to as his "Sermon on the Mount." Chapter 5, verse 1 begins: "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him." The chapters that follow include some of the most well-known things Jesus ever said, including the Beatitudes (5:1-12), the Lord's Prayer (6:9-13), and the golden rule (7:12). It's during that mountain sermon that Jesus also said, "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" Isn't it fascinating that much of Jesus' guidance is so timeless?
In Mark 3:13 and Luke 6:12, Jesus appoints his disciples on a mountain. An event called the transfiguration also happens on a mountain. A few of the disciples are invited along, as Jesus is transformed into dazzling white. Moses and Elijah show up as well. The transfiguration is described in Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, and Luke 9:28. Mountains are also places where Jesus frequently steps away from the crowds to go and pray. The night before his arrest is a night of particularly intense prayer.
After Jesus' death and resurrection, Jesus again ends up on a mountain! He invites all of his disciples to meet up with him in Matthew 28:16-20. It is where he sends them out into the world with instructions and a promise: "And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Mountains are places of special significance for Jesus. It seems that for him, mountains were places where he felt a special sense of God's nearness. Whether on mountain or plain — or perhaps in a comfy spot in your living room — may you, too, feel God's nearness as we journey through this mid-point in our Lenten pilgrimage.