By Lynn Arave
Dec. 6, 2008
Can mountain tops lift and inspire us to greater spiritual heights?
"Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord," a portion of Micah 4:2 in the Old Testament states. Mountains and hills are often times prominent, holy places in scripture.
For example, Jesus Christ sat upon the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3); Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus Chapters 19-20); and Israel was commanded to serve the Lord in his holy mountain (Ezekiel 20:40);
Indeed, in nearly all of the world's major religions, mountains characterize special spiritual significance. But why?
Mountains are physically impressive creations and could symbolically be viewed as being nearer to God or heaven from their lofty locations. They usually require extra effort on man's part to climb them and they generally offer more solitude and quiet than most valley locations do.
"Mountains also play prominently in the accounts of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jesus and other biblical prophets," Greg Witt, an author and outdoor guide, who lives in Provo, states. "Certainly for Latter-day Saints mountains not only have clear temple significance, but we also have a strong cultural connection with mountains, having crossed them in wagons and handcarts and built our home in the 'strength of the everlasting hills.' "
Witt continues: "Each year I hike hundreds of miles in the Wasatch, and guide in the Alps every summer, so I have plenty of opportunities to be in some great mountain settings. But there's more to mountains than just breathing fresh air and being in the great outdoors.
"Apart from the sense of accomplishment and personal triumph that comes with climbing a challenging mountain peak, I can also point to some great spiritual experiences as well. Admittedly, I've had some hairy experiences where my one thought is 'Lord, if you can pull me out of this alive, I'll do whatever.' But more frequently, I can recall some wonderful spiritual promptings, deep feelings of gratitude, specific revelation, and spiritual guidance that have come in mountain settings. I can remember exactly where I was, and which mountain was associated with each experience."
Brian Brinkerhoff is another Utah outdoorsman with a lot of experience with mountains.
"Some of my best memories have always been with family in the mountains," he said. "When we spend time together camping, hiking or fishing, we absorb the vivid scenery, breathe the fresh morning air and rediscover what the Lord has given us. I always feel nearer to the Lord when I am in the mountains admiring His great creations. For me it is like a reset button that makes me whole again. My wife has seen it on my face several times after returning from the mountains."
He said mountains are a source of inspiration for his busy life.
"I am drawn to the outdoors because I do feel closer to the Lord. Thoughts are often clearer and less distracted … I think many of us hunger for these experiences, but fail to turn down to volume of daily life to hear the messages that are always out there.
"Part of anyone's spiritual growth requires some time of quiet reflection. The mountains elevate us and take us away from noisy phones, telephones, traffic of home and allow us see beyond our small limited viewpoints. Not only does a hike to a mountain summit physically take us to higher elevations for great vista views, it can also elevate us spiritually, providing an opportunity to reflect on our lives and see ourselves more clearly as we make the journey.
"I have often headed to the mountains to read the scriptures or reflect on life. … Life in the mountains is an oasis in the deserts of daily existence and there is something special for those with open eyes and open hearts as they venture into the backcountry.
Even those who say they may not be particularly religious may feel something spiritual on mountain tops.
"I can't say that there is anything 'religious' about climbing/hiking mountains but it has always appealed to my 'spiritual' side in a big way," Mark Styczynski of New York and a member of the Highpointers Club, stated recently on America's Roof Web forum.
"Great way of blocking out all the day-to-day static and giving a dose of perspective about all the things we all get stressed out about," he continued. "There is something soothing and peaceful about knowing that the mountains were there long before us and will remain long after we're gone. All of man's creations and concerns are nothing more than blips in time."
Jesus Christ also went into the wilderness as he was fasting 40 days and tempted by the devil (Matthew Chapter 4). Some believe that not just mountains, but deserts, lava flows and other solitary places of nature can all foster spiritual experiences in man.
Catholics believe that they should worship and give thanks to God in Holy Mass. The Catholic Conservation Center, conservation.catholic.org, urges: "Contemplate the wonders of God's creation in the woods, by the sea, in a park, on a mountain, on a farm or in a garden. Many people can sense the presence of the Lord in the midst of nature."
"Faced with the glory of the Trinity in creation, we must contemplate, sing and rediscover awe," Pope John Paul II said.
"To be aware of God in nature should also lead us to praise the Lord in worship at Mass. And our experience in Mass should make us more aware of God in nature. The relationship between experiencing God in nature and in worship is truly of mutual benefit!"
The Mormon pioneers used Ensign Peak as an outdoor temple soon after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, until the Endowment House was constructed.
LDS temples generally represent mountains, where anciently they were climbed for solitude and a private communion with deity. Indeed the gray granite walls of the Salt Lake Temple were mined from the Wasatch Mountains and symbolize the enduring and eternal nature of the ordinances performed therein and of the everlasting hills (from "The Salt Lake Temple," by Dean R. Zimmerman, New Era Magazine, June 1978).
American Indians, like the Navajos, believe some mountains are sacred. Navajo Mountain, in Utah and northeast of Page, Ariz., is one such monolith. The San Francisco Mountains, north of Flagstaff, Ariz., are others.
Mountains make good places for meditation, because of their rugged, remote locations. The lofty, panoramic views from mountain tops can also tend to bring one's life into focus better. There is even the symbolism there of being nearer to the heavens and leaving civilization behind and temporarily entering into a simpler, less complicated existence.
Can you worship God as effectively on a mountain peak as in a cathedral?
Tod Bolsinger, a pastor at San Clemente, Calif., Presbyterian Church, wrote in his "It takes a church ..." blog at bolsinger.blogs.com on June 9, 2005, that some confuse worship and inspiration.
"Inspiration is when God illumines our lives with his gracious presence," Bolsinger wrote. "Worship is our response to those moments. If we truly want to honor the God who gave us perfect swells, clear trout streams, ski slopes, golf greens, beautiful children and loving spouses, we should enjoy those things six days a week and then give God the worship he commands on the seventh. Worship always includes gathering with God's people and participating in 'spirit and in truth' (John 4:24).
"In an odd sense, the only real way to honor the Creator of all outdoors is to get inside a church," he concluded.
Notwithstanding, mountains and peaks can be dangerous places, based on lightning, exposure, cliffs, etc. Caution and common sense should always be exercised in the outdoors, especially if hiking alone — an extra risky practice.