I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
The maker of heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
Or your guardian to sleep . . .
The Lord will guard your coming and going
Both now and forever. (Psalm 121:1-3, 8)
Mountains are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible. God often revealed God’s self on a mountaintop, for example, Mount Sinai where God formed a covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. (Exodus 19-20, 24) In the Gospels, we read that Jesus often went to the mountains to pray. He delivered one of his most important teachings on a mountainside. (Matthew 5, 6, 7) Many people today talk about mountaintop experiences on their own spiritual journeys: a special closeness to God, the overcoming of a huge obstacle in the path, or the accomplishment of a seemingly insurmountable task.
Yet, for me, mountaintop experiences are more frightening than inspirational. I love the majestic beauty of mountains, but climbing them is another story. I was in Montana last weekend, visiting my adorable 18-month-old grandnephew and his parents and grandparents. On Monday, we made a field trip (pilgrimage?) to Butte to see Our Lady of the Rockies, a 90-foot white metal statue of Mary, created by local metal workers, which towers above the city at more than 8500 feet above sea level. We could see the statue from the base of the mountain, but why would we not want to climb the mountain to see Mary up close?
From the base of the mountain, it’s a one-lane 6-mile dirt road with switchbacks, climbing more than 2000 feet to the top. With the exception of a nephew and his family in Florida, my entire family was in the tour van, with a chatty driver who occasionally drove with only one hand on the steering wheel! My sister reminded me of another mountain climb that we made together – a bus ride in early morning to El Tatio in the Andes Mountains to see the geysers. Then, as now, we had not asked enough questions about the tour before we started!
I was praying on that climb; they were pleas that we would come out of this adventure alive and unhurt – which, of course, we did. I realized that the fright arose from more than just my fear of heights. I had no control over the situation and was powerless to change it. I was unprepared and had to trust that others knew what they were doing.
There is a footnote in my Bible about Psalm 121. “It is a blessing given to someone embarking on a dangerous journey whether a soldier going on a campaign or a pilgrim returning home from the Temple. People look anxiously at the wooded hills. Will God protect them on their journey? The speaker declares that God is not confined to a place or a time, that every step is guarded; night and day God watches over their every movement.” I think I experienced that closeness to God after all.