Let Us Climb The Mountain Of The Lord

December 1, 2019 | Reflections from some of the nuns

Isaiah and the psalmist speak today of the spiritual journey as an ascent up the Lord’s mountain. Advent calls us to step away from the busyness of our world, to repattern the way we think about our lives in order to attain new heights in our walk with the Lord. God’s path is not centered on busyness but on the business of the reign of God. This kingdom is not about war, violence or hatred but a way of faith, love, hope, trust and peacemaking.

What is it about mountains? When people seek out wise gurus in movies and TV shows, they find them at the top of a mountain. Moses received the 10 Commandments from God on the top of a mountain. The Transfiguration of Jesus in front of Peter, James and John happened on a mountain. There is something about the peaks of mountains, stretching up, and up, and up that seems to inspire so many of us. I remember an episode of Little House on the Prairie, in which Laura Ingalls had something important she wanted to say to God, and so she climbed a mountain so she could get as close to God as she could to be certain that God would hear her.

We know that God is with us everywhere we go, every minute of our lives. But there are times when we feel God’s presence with us more than others, and for generations such moments in our lives have been called ‘mountain top experiences’ because of this long history of human beings encountering God on mountains.

Each mountain climber was once a first timer. My first real mountain climb was Mt Fuji, 28 years ago. A beauty that I lived under and admired but really had no idea what was waiting for me on the peak or along the hike up her slopes. When asked what I wanted to do or experiences I wanted to have whilst in Japan, it was top of my list. But I had no idea what was entailed in climbing a mountain.

The first step to be taken is to overcome the fear of the unknown, the vagaries of weather and the fear of falling, and the fear of not being able to obtain the goal of reaching the peak. Many climbers begin but turn back on the way due to injuries, altitude sickness or just the mental inability to get through the climb.

Courage and fear both reside in the heart, they are inseparable. The real issue is which is stronger. The biggest test of courage is the first climb, subsequent ascents nurture courage until it outgrows fear. Eventually, the realisation comes that courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to keep going whatever comes your way. The faith and hope in God and his strength to uphold you.

There are many physical, mental and spiritual challenges in climbing a mountain but overcoming them builds inner strength and fortitude. All first climbers encounter timidity, hesitancy and insecurity silently harboured in the heart, especially when standing at the bottom of a mountain and not being able to see the summit. The ultimate goal becomes lost to our sight and we have to move forward, to move up with only the memory of its sight to reassure us that it is there.

When climbing the mountain, you cannot control or possess it, you need to enter into a relationship with it so that you can learn more about the character of the mountain, yourself and God. Mt Fuji is all volcanic rock, red soil and loose volcanic dust. It has its own dangers of constantly falling rocks and loose soil that make climbing up a challenge. It has an essence of team work as others further up the mountain call warnings of danger so that you can huddle into the mountain to avoid falling rocks. Being unaware can lead to injury or death so you need to be alert, and others helping us along the way is invaluable.

Climbing mountains makes us aware that it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. The mountain remains there, unbowed and majestic. We hike up it to witness its wealth of nature and beauty and to borrow a bit of it. We try to draw the spiritual awareness it gives us further into our essence so that it stays with us even when we have left the mountain.

A mountain can never be underestimated, it has its own way of dealing with overconfidence. The hours of trudging, the slips and falls can be hard on the ego. Mountains can make us feel small. So, we have to leave our ego and bring back humility.

Mountain climbing takes mental challenges to new levels. The long stretches of continuous ascents are exhausting. Patience and persistence are slowly developed. Mt Fuji is a constant climb of ascent and many lose the battle and turn back. It is not until you reach the summit that you know it is all worth it. As you climb you are focused on each area of ascent, on the current path. And once you are beyond the trees there is little to see, the same monotonous landscape is all your weary mind and eyes see.

The first half of the climb is often torturous and the voices in your head sneak into the heart whispering regrets. But never let the mind fool the heart. The mind may give up easily but we must take heed of the admonition ‘not to look at the whole mountain but to take it one piece at a time.’ Only persistence can take us to the peak. The one who climbs the mountain to seek God does not have to be perfect or able to climb anything because the art of climbing the mountain is not in technique. The essential thing is to be free, at ease in the mountains, open to whatever may come your way.

Every time this world tries to bring us down, we must remind ourselves that we have climbed mountains. We have done what only a few have attempted. We have trusted in God’s mercy as we strove to the top of the mountain. In our spiritual mountains, we must also trust God and thrust ourselves into his arms. We’re not in control, God is, so we turn our difficulties to prayer and persevere through hardships. Ascending the mountain is uncomfortable, but it’s precisely in that discomfort that we experience God’s healing.

When climbing Mt Fuji, and really any mountain, the summit is the purpose. For most that climb Mt Fuji, arriving at the summit in time to see the sunrise is the ultimate goal. Sunrise on Mt Fuji has its own special word – Goraiko which means “the coming of the light” and refers to the feeling you get when witnessing it, as it is considered a sacred experience. At that moment you feel it all, you are standing there in perfect stillness and watchfulness and the sights and feelings overwhelm you. Below the summit, the clouds come alive in reds, pinks, magic blues and purple. Watching it is magical. It removes you far from yourself and closer to the true bringer of light. And yet it is not an experience that you have alone. You are surrounded by your companions from the journey up the mountain, those you know and the strangers who have alerted you to danger and who have helped show you the way. It is what thousands of people climb the mountain for. Isaiah says “All the nations will stream to it, people without number will come to” the mountain of the Lord.

Somewhere between the base of the mountain and the summit lies a spiritual discovery. Mountains are the epitome of God’s majesty and graciousness.

In the climbing, the hiker is seeking God, searching for the good, the beautiful and the true. In your heart you turn to God and admit, I am disconnected from the world, from distractions, surrounded by nothing but your beauty. I am completely at your mercy. What do you want to teach me? The answer may be in the beauty surrounding you, given freely by God the Creator. Or it can be the truth of your limitations, weaknesses or your capabilities. Or God may show us his goodness, the goodness of God that supplies all our needs and makes up for our weaknesses.

Mountains are able to teach the soul to not overlook the small things in life. The gruelling hours of climbing make us appreciate every drop of water, every helping hand.

The cold wind at the summit makes us thankful for the extra layer of clothing we resented carrying during those hours of climbing. We learn the importance of gratitude. Those who can find joy in small things find real happiness in their lives.

Upon reaching the summit, we realise that the view from the top is totally different from the bottom. The new panorama changes our perspective of life. Climbing to the peak, literally or metaphorically, helps sort out what is important in life.

Summits teach us that no matter how high we climb or how far we reach, we should never forget the way back home. After all Jesus frequently went up mountains and called others to him on them but he also came down again. After Jesus’ disciples heard the Sermon on the Mount, they came down and changed the world. They were never the same. And on the return down the mountain, that is when you see the beauty, the panoramic views you missed whilst making the climb.

Clearly the sacred writers understood the mountain to be a place where we truly encounter God and are satisfied – in word and teaching, in quietness and solitude, in light and glory, and in blood and sacrifice.

We must climb mountains every day spiritually. If we can ascend to the heights that tower above the surrounding mountains, higher than the hills and say to each other “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord”, we will ‘awake’, seeking God’s light. Trust in God who gives us all we need and let us climb, let us make the daily effort to reach the summit of the Lord, his Temple. For we know that no matter how difficult it may be, it is well worth the effort.

-Sr Julian