Saturday, January 23, 2010

Singing On the Mountain

What is it about a mountain that brings us closer to God? In all the sacred literature of the world, the divine is apprehended on the mountaintop. In the Hebrew Bible there is Mount Moriah, Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb, Mount Hermon, and Mount Zion to name only a few. In the Christian scriptures there is the Mount of Transfiguration, the Mount of Olives, Mount Calvary, and the Sermon on the Mount. The Greeks have Olympus. The Tibetans have Mount Kailash, the Japanese have Mount Fuji. The Egyptians, Babylonians and Mayans built their pyramids and ziggurats to be archetypal mountains.

In Revelation we see the people of God - the symbolic 144,000 sealed by God - gathered on a mountain. There has been much speculation and argument about the identity of these "servants of God." They are clearly identified in Chapter 7 as Jews - whether literal descendants of Abraham or representative of the whole people of God is a matter of debate. But I am not interested in debating. I am interested in joining with them. The Book of Revelation does not stir me to speculation; it prompts me to inspiration.

Chapter 14 tells us they are gathered on Mount Zion, singing a "new song" in worship. Every year I make a pilgrimage to the mountains. For me the sacred peaks are the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I stand before Mount Chocorua or Mount Washington, I stand on the edge of the Great Gulf and sing a song to the Creator. Every time it is a new song. The ancient mountains never get old for me. "They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lam. 3:23) The spaciousness of a mountain vista opens up the spaciousness of my soul.

Even though I go to the mountains, I also experience the same type of spaciousness in prayer. There is a tale that Muhammad once sought proof of his teachings by ordering a mountain to come to him. When it did not move, he maintained that God had been merciful, for if it had indeed moved they all would have been crushed by it. "If the mountain won't come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain."

My experience is that when I can't go to the mountains, the mountains come to me. There is a spaciousness in my soul when I am "in the Spirit" in contemplative prayer. I experience a spiritual vista of the Holy Spirit. Looking into the depths of my human soul in the arms of God's Spirit is like peering across a vast canyon or gazing across the ocean. "There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea." Then with the apostle John, I hear the strains of the 144,000.

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