Saturday, July 21, 2012



I spent three days this week at an educators’ conference near Brattleboro Vermont. The “Green Mountain State” was an enjoyable respite from the heat of Downtown Newark. (It did get pretty warm one afternoon in Vermont, but the official temperature back home at the time was 104 degrees, so who can complain?)

I had the opportunity to take a side trip to Williamstown, MA, to see Williams College, and on the way  I drove through the most beautiful mountain scenery you could imagine. I stopped a couple of times at scenic overlooks just to drink in the serene, quiet power of the mountains. 

When I’m in beautiful surroundings I try whenever possible to do my praying outdoors. So it happened that I was strolling slowly, praying the psalms one afternoon this week when I suddenly came upon Psalm 121, that begins “I lift up my eyes to the mountains.” It was so great! I literally let my gaze slowly and deliberately move upward off the page to a row of trees nearby and then continue straight up the side of a nearby tree-covered mountain until I had to tilt my head back to see the top. So I just stayed with that psalm for awhile, enjoying the opportunity to “lift my eyes to the mountains” as I prayed.


Mount Sinai, Egypt
Israel is mountainous country, so it isn’t’ surprising that mountains shape much of the spiritual character of the Israelite religion. Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac on mount Moriah, the covenant was ratified on Mount Sinai, and Moses died and was buried on Mount Nebo after surveying the Promised Land from its summit. Elijah confronted the confused priests of Baal on Mount Carmel.

In the gospels Matthew has Jesus go up on a mountain to preach to the crowds his famous “Sermon on the Mount,” a sign that he is the “new Moses.” Jesus often will go up on a mountain to pray by himself, and is transfigured before his disciples on a mountain. He dies on a rocky hill outside Jerusalem which itself is situated on Mount Sion, and finally he ascends into heaven in the sight of his apostles who are gathered on a mountain top.

In the bible, a mountain is the place par excellence to meet God


Invariably as I look at a mountain I think to myself about the hiking trails that lead to its summit. But these days my back won’t let me walk any trails myself -- maybe that’s why I’ve become so conscious of the idea of walking up mountains, and even more conscious of the physical effort required to get to the top of one. In biblical times folks had neither cars nor helicopters, so they couldn’t just casually drop by a mountain summit -- if they found themselves on a mountain top it was because they had invested some considerable conscious effort to climb there. Getting to a mountain top took work.

So as I was gazing up at this tall green mountain that afternoon I realized that it held a message for me: To encounter God requires determination and commitment on my part. Prayer, then, is not just casually dropping by for a chat; it takes work, the same as climbing a mountain. Making myself available to God means sacrificing, investing something. My biblical forbears didn’t expect God to just drop by, but rather they knew that they would have go out (or up!) to meet the Lord. By thy time they got to the mountain top they had invested a lot in the project, and were better disposed, then, to encounter the Lord. And I suspect that under those circumstances the Lord must have found it easier to get their attention!

I hope that the message of that green mountain will stay with me for a long while, and will help me during those times when I’m tempted to be inattentive or slovenly when I’m supposedly praying. Maybe I’ll recall those words that made me lift my eyes from my prayer book:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
   from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved;
   he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
   the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
   nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
   he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
   your going out and your coming in
   from this time on and for evermore.
(Psalm 121, RSV trans.)

The "Green Mountain State"

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