We love wilderness. We love it for its beauty, power and majesty. Others can stand at the foot of a great sculpture, near a painting or hear a sonata and find the results of God at work through the efforts of humans. We rest between the gunwales of our canoe at a quiet bay on a Canadian shield lake, watching the loons, or a bear, smelling the white cedar trees and the tamarack swamp, and see evidence of a Divine hand.
Conservationists, environmentalists, and those who have a strong attraction to nature tend to fall within one of three groups. The first group holds that nature, while important, is not sacred in any sense of the word. People in this profile are usually not religious. The second group believes that nature is in some way sacred as it was created by God and thus reflects God’s glory. The third group holds that nature is itself spiritual. Nature does not so much reflect God as it is God. The second option is most in line with the authors’ thinking and is a theme throughout this book. Nature, created by God, reflects God’s glory. We can experience God in and through nature, albeit in a limited fashion. To use the language of theologians, we might say that nature or certain spots in creation are “sacramental.” To put it simply, such places can have a spiritual effect on a person. Heaven is a place and a sense of being.
Two geographical locations that seem to have very strong grip on our religious sensibilities are bodies of water and mountains. Rivers, lakes, streams and seas as well as hills and mountains can have a certain power over us. Sitting on the shores of a lake, whether in the wilderness or a beach in great city, can enable us or prepare us to experience God’s grace. The vastness of the lake, so deep, so broad, so peaceful, or the continual flow of a river can engage our spiritual sense...
“One climbs a mountain,” writes Tim Robinson, “drawn instinctively by the magnetism of the highest point, as to a summit of personal awareness, awareness of oneself as a point inrelation to as much of space as can be grasped within a maximal horizon. Thus a mountain top is one of the most sensitive spots on earth.”
After reading ancient texts, one might add that perhaps mountains are among the most spiritual spots on earth. There are more references to mountains and hills in the Bible than any other geographical feature. The list of significant events that occurred on mountains seems endless: Noah’s ark came to rest on a mountain; God tested Abraham in an incident sometimes called the “binding of Isaac” on a mountain; Moses meets God as a burning bush and is later given the Ten Commandments on a mountain; and there are several references in the Old Testament to God’s holy mountain. In the New Testament, the significance of mountains continues. Jesus often goes to a mountain to pray; we refer to a famous moral teaching moment as the “Sermon on the Mount”; the miracle of the loaves and fishes happened on a mountain; the night before his death, Jesus prays on a hill, the Mount of Olives; and indeed he is finally crucified on a hill. Ultimately, his great commission to his disciples and ascension occur on a mountain. All of these references give some credence to the idea that mountains and hills are “thin” places.
Mountains and hills reach to the heavens. Their vastness, beauty and splendor are immeasurable. All the more impressive then is Paul’s contention that “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Mountains, however, are not necessarily lovely to those who must travel over them. Others, apparently not appreciating their grandeur, have referred to mountains as the warts of the earth. Mountains present us with impenetrable, unmovable and seemingly everlasting fixtures on our physical and mental landscapes. This longevity suggests that is wisdom to be found on them. Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) describes the condition of a mountain that was so dramatic that it looked as if God had used new pruning shears to clear the brush. He demands that we take long-term view of our relation to nature. Leopold suggests we think “like a mountain.” As he notes in his regret of hunting wolves to near extinction, in A Sand County AlmA Sanac, “Only a mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.”
Excerpted by premission of Brazos Press (Grand Rapids, MI, www.brazospress.com) and Drs. Bernard Brady and Mark Neuzil