Mountains….There is such an incredible awe about mountains. You stand at their base and admire their grandeur and majesty, you stand at the peak and admire its beauty and its serenity.
Mountains are so prevalent in the bible. When God wanted to give His Old Testament commandments He gave them to Moses on top of a mountain. When He wanted to give His New Testament commandments, the sermon on the mount, He gave them on a mountain. Mountains make many other appearances in the bible. The ark of Noah rested upon a mountain when the flood had dispersed. Elijah heard the still small voice of God in a cave on a mountain. When David fled from Saul he found refuge in the mountains. When judas Maccabees and his soldiers gathered to prepare to re-sanctify Jerusalem, they prepared themselves in the mountains. When Christ Himself went to pray He went alone to mountainous areas. When Christ transfigured it was on top of the mount tabor. When Christ ascended it was from the top of a mountain. And there are many more times mountains appear in the bible.
Even in the lives of post bible saints, many holy men and women spent much time in mountains. The most common one is likely St Anthony. I had the pleasure of climbing St Anthony’s mountain; where his cave is, and believe me, I’m not surprised he spent much of his life there. It is beautiful! So serene and peaceful. You haven’t heard true silence until you have climbed that mountain.
But why is there such an emphasis on mountains?
Mountains in and of themselves are quite beautiful to behold but don’t let the beauty fool you into thinking getting to the top will be easy! Mountains represent many things.
One representation is our journey to God. At the start of the journey up you are excited and adventurous but about 10mins in, before even starting a proper ascent, you start to slowly breathe a little faster and doubt sets in. I climbed this mountain with a group and the effects are so similar to our spiritual battles. After 10mins doubt crept into some minds, some turned back and missed the reward of reaching the top and seeing what no eye could ever see from the bottom. Others were very prepared for the journey and took food and water, even toilet paper…just incase. These seemed more fit and overall, mentally and physically fine tuned for the task at hand. Others became nervous yet due to the prepared nature of the previously mentioned prepared, and their guidance and leadership, people such as the monks and priest that were with us, this nervous group soldiered on.
This is the same with our spiritual lives. Some may fall at the start and let doubt and faithlessness creep in and break them down crippling them from taking anymore steps closer to God for whatever reason. Those who were prepared are like those who keep the commandments and their spiritual canons, their prayers, fasting, readings and quiet time, they are the ones we should follow. The majority fall into the nervous category. While they want to climb, the fear and doubts of others shakes them. Yearning to continue yet rocked by doubts and fears. Yet by the grace of God there are those who are prepared who can act as a rock of support between them and the true Rock of support, our Lord Jesus, until the nervous ones learn to lean on the true Rock themselves without the middle man.
The next phase of the journey is the ascent upward. This is where the battle starts. While it’s not too difficult yet, you notice people starting to concentrate more on their breathing then on their talking. Their heads are down keeping their eyes on each step. The traveller is now on their own journey up. Personal battles come into play. Each step is something to overcome and you begin to contemplate and examine yourself. You relate each step to a problem or sin in your life and with each step you recognise your faults. One step you may say, “I am always so stressed”, another you may say, “I am so impatient”, and yet other steps you may say, “I am so ungrateful, greedy, selfish, resentful, unable to be alone, insecure” Of course more can be added. With each battle, each step, each thought, you need to climb and conquer it in order to continue your ascent. With each step, God gives you the strength to conquer, you are one step closer to His treasure for you at the top.
After some time, and much struggling, slipping, falling and getting back up, you reach more flat areas where you can rest, take a drink and regain your breath. These are what are called periods of grace in your life. Of course God gives little gems of grace throughout the journey but this is a nice long period. Don’t let this period let you think that the rest of the spiritual life is like this. It’s not. Don’t get too comfortable here. If you stay in this comfortable period you will never reach the top of the mountain and will miss the ultimate grace period, the one at the top with true rest…and a view.
From here starts the real struggle. The steep ascent. After a grace period it can be hard to struggle. You may think “why has God left me? We were good just last week but now I feel like He has left me.” The truth is castles and kings don’t stay at the bottom or even in the middle of mountains, but they dwell at the top. You may see the King passing up and down every now and then, but their abode is at the top of the mountain, at the kiss the King dwells so “kiss the Son” and go dwell with the King at the top of the mountain.
But you must struggle, step by aching step. Yes the rest was good and gracious, but we want to dwell with the King at the top. Some may stop here and not continue but this is a lukewarm climber. So close yet so far. One who has tasted, enjoyed, and rejected the rest of the meal…
Each step is harder then the one before but you now really realise how weak you are…With each step you get deeper in your self examination. You no longer just recognise your faults but question why they exist. No longer do you just say “I am stressed, impatient, ungrateful, greedy, selfish, resentful, unable to be alone, insecure” but you say “WHY AM I so stressed, impatient, ungrateful, greedy, selfish, resentful, unable to be alone, insecure and everything else?”. You now begin to address the route cause of the problem. No longer is it enough to try and block out individual faults but to block out all sources and causes of fault. But the mountain slowly reveals to you how weak you are, you come to know that you are unable to take a step let alone block out sources of separation between you and God. So you say things like “please God help me make it”, “I can’t do this alone” and that’s where everything changes. You feel a rush of energy as if Christ was now walking for you. And that’s exactly what happens. We go through metania. We bow down that Christ may lift us up with Him. It is no longer you who is walking but Christ in you. He now addresses your steps. He now addresses your faults. He now addresses the source of your problems. It’s not that each step no longer feels painful but that the pain now feels like a blessing, as if you are suffering with Christ, to find Christ, at the dwelling of the King, at the top of the mountain.
As is often the case with mountains, you can’t quite see the top, but you know it’s coming. The group is now very quiet, out of breathe and full of reflection. Some not being able to see the top, as though there were no end to the mountain, stop and no longer continue. Some stop and rest, not realising that whilst they stop they are slowly slipping back down the mountain. The rest however soldier on. It’s very easy to be disheartened by a climb where the end is not in sight, nevertheless it is often the case that the end of the struggle is so very close. Don’t rely on your eyes, “for we walk by faith and not by sight.” No matter how good your vision may be, don’t rely on what you see but on what God tells you is there! Even Samuel the prophet, who could see into the future, didn’t see David the shepherd boy.
After some motivation and a few more minutes of the most arduous steps of the steep ascent, you arrive at the top.
The air is more crisp and fresh. The cool breeze blows kisses that refresh you more wholly than you’ve ever felt. The view! The view is truly “exceedingly abundantly above what you ask or think” truly “what no eye has seen” the silence is what no “ear has heard”. But the greatest feeling of all is that sense of humility that comes over you for climbing the mountain that could have crushed you.
You realise your progress from who you were at the foot of the mountain, to who you became at the top. You began as an indestructible human that dominate the mountain and ended at the top a true human, aware of your weaknesses and not afraid to reveal and submit them to the God who walked you up the mountain.
And that is when it hits you. At the top of the mountain, in the midst of your reflection. You see the foot prints of the King in the depths of your heart. And just as the sand and rubble of the mountain dissipate with each landing of a footprint, leaving a mark. So to does all sin and fault dissipate at the landing of the footprint of the King in your heart, also leaving a mark.
For as I was climbing the the mountain in front of me. Christ the King was climbing the mountain of my heart. As He climbed the mountain of all human hearts when He descended; all the way to the bottom, to take you all the way to the top. From the bottom of the manger, the cross, the grave and hades itself, to the top of the mountain; heaven, the right hand of the Father, the throne of Christ Himself.
So…will you want to climb the mountain?
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” – C. S. Lewis
“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (The Chronicles of Narnia) C. S. Lewis
~ Meena Awad.