Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gifts of Wonder - On The Mountaintop

“I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the Promised Land …” What spirit could not be stirred by Dr. King’s vision! Looking over his broad shoulders we also were called to see great possibilities. The views from mountaintops call us to open our minds and hearts and embrace the possible.

Another thing about mountaintops -- you can’t see the view from its summit without actually being there. You have to do the hard work, accept the risks, and devote the time to reach it. And, as in the case of Jesus, Gandhi and King, getting there could well involve death.

The mountaintops I’m working with today aren’t metaphorical -- they’re real mountains, the kind one hikes on. Still, reaching the summit of these physical wonders is every bit as riveting to one’s spiritual sense as the mountaintop from which Dr. King saw the Promised Land. One is filled with wonder upon reaching the summit and experiencing its unique, breathtaking beauty ... and with a heightened awareness of the very thin line that separates the spiritual from the physical.

Although I’m posting this from Buenos Aires, for the last 9 years I’ve lived in the middle of a forest at almost 4,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In that forest, there is no sound except for birds and gentle wind, no light but the light from stars and moon. And the splendor of Yosemite is so close that the coffee in my cup still has warmth in it when I cross the Park boundary and am embraced by trees and river and granite.

I’ve had these gifts of wonder in my life for almost a decade. And with the help of good friends in my hiking group, I’ve managed to stand on the summit of dozens of peaks in Yosemite and its surrounding mountains and be captured by the wonder of their spiritual energy.

I took these photos of some friends in 2007 at the top of Mt. Dana, second highest mountain in Yosemite.

I get my picture taken, too, with Mono Lake in the background. Mt. Dana has an elevation of 13,061 feet, so the breathing gets a little labored just as it does when we take on any risk in life.

 The trek down is just as exhilarating as reaching the summit. We’re filled with both the fantastic view and the great feeling of having just connected with something larger than life.

Did I mention that we’re all members of the Sierra Senior Hikers? Sure, we all creak and groan a bit, but the beauty and thrill of a mountain trek make up for sore muscles and tired feet. But, still, all spiritual stimulation aside, it always feels good to stop!

There is something else that has drawn me into the midst of so much wonder. It is my unceasing reflection as I hike, that these incredible displays are not accidental, but powerful evidence that a Higher Power, a Divine Artist, has been at work. Not only a Higher Source, a powerful God, but one Who clearly loves us. Why else create such gifts of wonder? In the presence of such boundless love, I can’t help but be profoundly grateful.

There’s an old hymn that expresses all this. Alan Jackson sings it beautifully on YouTube. Click: How Great Thou Art  I hum the words of the old hymn as I hike the mountains because it perfectly describes the wonder I experience. The YouTube renditions do not include these words that match so closely my experience on the trail:
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
when I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
and see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee,
how great thou art, how great thou art
then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee,
how great thou art, how great thou art.

I sometimes felt that my reflections and wonder were not shared by fellow hikers. Then one day, in the middle of July, we walked through a meadow at 8,000 feet that was just experiencing its higher elevation spring season and were treated to a display of thousands upon thousands of wildflowers. An amazing sight in the middle of summer! One of the hikers commented, “I feel like I'm trespassing in God’s garden.”

I hope you will find your gifts of wonder on a mountain trail one day soon.

You may enjoy reading,
Touching The Rainbow Ground - 8 Steps To Hope
about my 30 year journey to the rainbow ground
working with some of God’s other gifts of wonder,
impoverished children in The Americas.