My friend Ron Noyes has hiked up at least two dozen of “The Fourteeners” in the Colorado Rockies (the 50 peaks higher than 14,000’). I don’t have to ask why he did that or why my son Loren scales sheer rock walls in the Tetons. I’ve climbed a few smaller mountains and know the sensation of sitting atop the highest point. Such times leave me feeling purged, clean, in touch with my deepest self.
I recall a low broad-shouldered mountain my wife and I climbed in southern Africa. Once we reached the broad tabletop, its expanse gave a sense of security, even of power. The people living in the peaceful village far below us went about their business, indifferent to our presence. Occasionally, the sounds of their voices drifted up to us, pure as the notes plucked on a hidden harp. I was glad they were far away; being “up here” separated us from the bustling, unaware, world of “down there.”
That afternoon outing had been recast into something noble, deserving of an anthem. But I thought only of the words of the Psalmist, “And Thou hast not given me over into the hands of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a large place.”
You understand such feelings, whether you’ve climbed Mt. Fuji (possibly the most climbed mountain in the world) or Mt. Hood or even if you’ve merely scrambled to the top of the highest hill in a nearby wilderness. Everything you see around you—any direction you look—sets down there, in bondage to that which you’ve left.
It’s a spiritual moment. You have left the normal, the ordinary, the routine, the average, and the obligatory. It prompts us to consider what Jesus meant when he said “My peace I leave with you, not as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.” For those minutes or hour that you remain at that place, you belong to no one and nothing else.
Too infrequently do we escape to that beyond ourselves. But we don’t always have to retreat to our personal Sinai. The revelation of the holy can come when we still our minds to stop … stop and look into the chill night sky, sparkling with the diadems of heaven. We stare into that spangled darkness until the cold drives us inside.
But deeper still than nature’s vast display, our spirits can be lifted in time set aside to memorialize a life gone from this mortal plain. For an hour or more, we stop, because we’re supposed to. Cell phones and pagers silent, we become decent human beings again. With family and friends, we celebrate the life now gone. In that tear-stained time, we can lay aside our proper rigid selves and contemplate the truth of the eternal and our own mortality. Sufficiently quiet, we’re aware of that which matters.
The memorial service over, we reluctantly descend the mountaintop and trudge back to duty. Yet Jesus’ words stick in our minds, “Abide in me, all you burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Can we do it? We can experience Jesus’ presence without having to climb a mountain. We only have to stop. Change our focus. In the quiet, our souls can awaken to truth—that being Jesus, the very essence of truth.