Wilderness Sanctuaries & Mountain Cathedrals* 09-26-2013

My faith journey began with mountain climbing. I started out climbing in the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia in my teens. After high school I spent a year in Uganda, East Africa working with Habitat for Humanity. Whenever I got the chance I climbed in the mountains: Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Elgon and Margherita in Uganda. Then later I climbed mountains in the Absaroka Mountains of Montana, The North Cascade Mountains of Washington, and The King Range in California… Before I considered seminary and ministry the wilderness was my sanctuary and mountains were my cathedrals.

My first unmistakable experiences of God’s presence took place in the mountains. I would get to a high point and my dreams would become more vivid at night and my thoughts would become clearer. Then there were those spectacular moments when everything seemed to still and a profound silence came over me. As I looked out on the panorama of mountain vistas this unmistakable feeling that there is a higher power that is at the center of all life came over me. I felt in those moments that I was part of a great mystery far greater than myself that animates all things, even at the cellular level.

These “mountain top” experiences were the beginning of my spiritual journey, which later led me into ministry.

When I drive over gates pass in Tucson, Arizona and gaze upon the vast Sonoran Desert, and when I look over the vistas at The Desert Museum, I am sometimes mesmerized by the oceanic grandeur and beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

On my spiritual journey I have been influenced by the Natural Mystics. The Natural Mysticism of Christian Tradition is epitomized in the writings of Saints Francis and Clair or Assisi, Saint Patrick of Ireland, and Celtic Christianity in general. These mystics show profound reverence for the natural world. For these writers the way of devotion to the Creator is fall in love with creation. This same devotion is present in Protestant Hymns such as “How Great Thou Art” and “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

Moses found God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20) and Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor (Matthew 7:2, Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29). The shepherds who were closest to the land became prophets, who gave us the poetry of the Hebrew Bible. And I have talked with people at Church of the Painted Hills who love to hike and scuba-dive. May the beauty of wilderness, mountains, and the great expanses connect us with The Great Mystery that we breathe in with every inhalation—that Mystery that animates every cell and sets the galaxies in motion!