Spirit Quest on the glory of mountains


The Spirit will be found within us, not on mountain tops

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

I love mountains. There is nothing more majestic than a rugged peak reaching up into the sky. Although I have never lived among them I have had occasion to view them from afar.

In Europe I have taken the train to the Jungfraujoch in the Swiss Alps. It winds its way through beautiful alpine meadows that reminds one of Heidi and her kin. It then enters a tunnel that burrows upward in a mountain. There are a couple of stopping off spots where through windows in the rock wall one can view the stunning mountain ranges. The train finally pulls into a terminus that reminded me of a city subway station complete with hotel, gift shops and restaurants. A walkway leads out to a platform from where one is able to view all three, the Eiger (3,970 m) the Moench (4,107 m) and the Jungfrau (4,158 m). The magnificent view is unobstructed and seems to be within touching distance.

I have also been to the Grosglockner mountain (3,798 m), the highest in Austria. It can be viewed from the Franz-Josefshuette, which is anything but a hut, rather it is a palatial hotel. perched on the edge of a mountain. The Grosglockner rises from the other side of a glacial valley. You may have to wait and if  lucky see the cloud to dissipate and reveal the massif in all its glory.

When I studied in Switzerland I had a garret room where from my window I could see Lake Geneva and at times in the distance the peak of Mont Blanc,(4,810 m) the highest in all of Europe.

Canada also has some rocky giants. Mount Robson (4,663 m) can easily be seen from the Yellowhead highway just west of Jasper. We waited  patiently until it doffed its cloudy hat to see it in its total splendour.

I can well understand the fascination of mountain climbing. Having watched mountaineers scale Mazinaw Rock at Bon Echo Provincial Park I have never been tempted to indulge in it.

The climb to the top of Mount Everest (8,848 m) has of late turned into a traffic jam. Unfortunately some of the climbers have left a legacy with their frozen bodies. Also there is a considerable amount of inorganic garbage accumulating along the way. No one seems intent to clean it up in that life unfriendly atmosphere.

I do not disparage the thrill of standing on the roof of the world. There is probably nothing to replace that sensation. The human spirit seems to revel in going to extremes, insisting on doing whatever is almost impossible, at whatever cost, even life itself.

Many years ago when I lived in Scotland and attended a private school to learn English I was introduced to Presbyterian worship. There was a hymn that I particularly loved: “Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes.” With my minimal piano skill I managed to play the tune and do so still.  It asks “From whence shall my salvation come, from whence arise?” Undoubtedly the psalmist of long ago had experienced mountains. It symbolized for him the very throne of God.

While at that school I could look north to the Ochill Hills, a mere 721 meters; no match for the aforementioned peaks. On several occasion I made the climb up the glen to the ruin of Castle Campbell and then beyond. Those hills were bare and sheep grazed on the sparse grass of the steep slopes. Each time I came over the brow of a hill there was another hill waiting. I always felt the urge to go on, to reach the top of the last hill and to see to the other side. I never did.

Five years ago when I revisited the school, I climbed through the narrow gorge along a rushing stream to the castle but no further. Angry knees and hips complained too much.

In early Israel there was a controversy between the tribes about where Yahweh should be worshipped, was it at the Great Temple in Jerusalem or at so called ”high places” that is mountain tops.  The temple won but  in the year 70 AD Roman legions decimated the city and the temple. It has never been rebuilt. Its western wall remains as a place of prayer.  Temple worship and the sacrificial cult were replaced by the worship and study of the Torah in the synagogues wherever jewish people live.

When I see mountains there is no doubt that my spirits are lifted and I know what the psalmist had in mind. They are indeed holy places that the laws, even if they originated in an encounter between God and man, Moses and Yahweh, on Mount Zion, cannot surpass. But perhaps they, like sacred mountains, are not meant to be trespassed upon.

There is a Spirit that is lifted up when we behold those majestic eminences. Is it a desire to conquor the dwelling of the gods? No doubt we need something to look up to and to be inspired by, but the Spirit of God is found not on the mountain top but within the hearts and minds of humankind.

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