While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I m well pleased; listen to him!” – Matthew 17:5
For many years when I lived in Colorado, my friend and I had an annual tradition for New Year’s Eve. We would always pack a picnic lunch along with crystal champagne glasses and a bottle of cider bubbly. We would pray for snow, and then we would head as far into the mountains as we could go – right up to the very edge of safety. And there we would sit – in the snow having a picnic lunch and reflecting on the past year and the year to come. I remember one year when it started to snow and we could actually hear the silence – literally. It was so silent we could actually hear the snowflakes landing on the ground. It was a true moment of the most finely tuned clarity that I have ever experienced, yet it was clarity that came out of absolute silence.
From the beginning of time, humans have always known that the most intentional way to have private time with God is to go up. It is a deeply ingrained instinct much like birds migrating, or salmon swimming upstream. Whenever we need to get away from the world and its busyness, we head straight for the nearest mountain, or hill. We go up to get closer to God, because we know intuitively that God is there. When we seek clarity and vision, we know to go up. If we need an epiphany, or a revelation, or focus, or some sort of a sign, or when our spirit just simply cries out for something, anything, we inevitably make our way upward. Mountaintops lure us with the promise that we will see the world and ourselves differently. And as I experienced many times in Colorado, there is nothing purer or finer than the moment when you first emerge into the crisp, clean air and the bright sunshine and look down upon the cloud that you have just left – a cloud that covers and hides the rest of the world with all of its distractions and noise.
I believe all of us have “spiritual mountaintops” in our lives, those times when we truly open our hearts to God and we feel we are in a “thin space” where the distance between God and ourselves seems to evaporate. But what if we could hold the mountain and the plain, the sacred and the ordinary, in harmony instead of this contracted paradigm of either/or? Thomas Merton once said, “We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.”
All the earth – all of creation, is absolutely blooming the presence of God. The truth is we really don’t have to climb a mountain to find God; all we have to do is turn our attention toward God. Like our ancestor Jacob, who said, “God is in this place, and I wasn’t aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). God is in the rain, the wind, the sun, the moon and the stars. God is the love and the tenderness that we share; God is there, woven between the laughter and the tears of our stories, our fragile hopes and our most cherished dreams. God is there, in our suffering and God is there in every moment of redemption, restoration, and resurrection. As we continue on this Lenten journey, let us remember to search for God in the valleys as well as the mountains.