In ancient tradition, God dwells on the mountaintops. That is where Elijah encounters Him. But God was not in the great wind that tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks. He was not in the earthquake that shook the mountain to its roots. He was not even in the fire that ravaged the mountainside. God instead revealed himself to the prophet in a gentle breeze.
Moses also encountered God on the mountaintop. The Lawgiver received from the hand of God the laws that were to guide the people, laws based on love for God.
So the highest places on earth are traditionally where one goes to have an encounter with God. Those who climb mountains will even say that they do so because that is where they feel closest to God.
The spiritual journey that we are all on can be thought of as a climb up the mountainside. We spend much of our lives in the comfortable town at the base of the mountain. If we hear God calling us, we all too often ignore Him, or drown out the call with other activities. But if we are attentive, we hear the call and respond. This is the time for us to Discern the mission God has given us, how we are to use the talents and abilities He has given us to serve Him by serving others.
When we answer the call, and cross the threshold of our safe, known world, we begin to climb the mountain, a new world of wonder and beauty. This is where we face the temptations and trials that threaten to deter us from our journey or strengthen us for what lies ahead. This is also a time for learning. We learn how to use the gifts God has given us, we sharpen them, hone them to perfection. These are the tools that will help us on our great adventure. This is a time of Formation.
Finally we arrive at the mountaintop, and our encounter with the Divine. Here we are assured that God is always wth us. From this point on, as we journey back down the mountainside, everything we do should be motivated by our love for God. The journey down the mountain is a time of Vocation. We see now why we are here and how the gifts we have been given are to be used. Nothing else matters,
Martin Luther King described his own mountaintop experience this way.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” – Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968
From the very beginning God has only asked one question of us; do we love Him? It is asked in different ways and with different words, sometimes with no words at all, but always the question is there; do we love Him? Will we obey Him?
Abram had his encounter with the Divine. He was called to leave all that he has ever known, his home and his livelihood and go to a land that God will show him. In return God promises Abram that he will be a blessing to a great nation. Abram answers that call, crosses the threshold, and starts climbing the mountain.
The calling of Abram is the beginning of God’s covenant with His chosen people and from them will come the Savior of the World. But before any of that could happen it was necessary for one man to listen and do as the Lord directed.
Abram, who would become Abraham, started us on the long journey back to God, a journey we are still on. Abram listened and was strengthened by God for his journey.
On top of the mountain Peter, James and John are given a vision. They see Elijah and Moses, the prophet and the lawgiver conversing with Jesus. They see Christ in His glory, a vision that will strengthen them for the difficult days ahead, days full of pain, suffering and doubt. It is also a vision of the final destination, the reward and blessing that will be ours if only we listen and do His will.
“To listen to Christ and obey his voice: this is the principle way, the only way, that leads to the fullness of joy and of love.” Pope Benedict XVI