Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mountain Spirituality

During our family vacation to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, we hiked up Mount Washburn, elevation 10, 243 feet (3,122 meters).  It is one of the highest points in Yellowstone, offering spectacular vistas of the area, with snow capped peaks visible in all directions.

While I am not an avid mountain hiker (living in Iowa makes that somewhat difficult), I do enjoy day hikes to mountain summits whenever I can.  While I understand that God is not limited to being "up there" somewhere, when you are on top of a mountain, it nevertheless feels like you are closer to God.

My mountain spirituality is not unique.  Mountainous areas have been the home of monks for centuries.  Pope Celestine V (the monastic Pope who set the precedent for Pope Benedict XVI's resignation) preferred the mountains of Italy to the city of Rome.

The world's oldest monastery, St. Catherine's, is at the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt.

And, of course, the world's largest grouping of monks is found at the monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece.

So, while I may not have been closer to God in a literal sense on the top of Mount Washburn, perhaps I was closer to God in other ways.  At the top of a mountain, you get an entirely unique perspective on God's creation.  On the one hand, you see how beautiful, intricate, and vast it is.  On the other hand, you see how fragile it is - for example, there are still many areas where the damage done from the 1988 Yellowstone fires are still visibly apparent, 25 years later.

The other sense of closeness to God after an ascent typically comes from the solitude at the top, and I suspect the monks of the mountains have gone there in search of that solitude.  That kind of sheer solitude escaped me on Mount Washburn, as there were other hikers present, but compared to the rest of Yellowstone, which was filled with tourists, there was a sense of being alone with God at times.

So, I hope that as I continue along this path of Benedictine, contemplative spirituality, many more mountain hikes will be in store for me.

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