“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’” — 1 Kings 19:11
Modern man now knows that God does not reside in the clouds or the stratosphere, so we seldom see any churches or altars on top of our mountains. But have you ever wondered just why God chose mountaintops as the preferred place to talk to men? It certainly appears to me that God likes one-on-one conversation with no possibility of eavesdroppers. The only recorded instance of God talking to a group was Christ’s baptism. He likes his distance from civilization. I believe that the prime reason God finds mountaintops to be his preferred location for communication is a simple word familiar to all climbers: “Exposure.” In this situation, there are three phases of exposure — physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Most of us are familiar with physical exposure found in the highest of places. Gravity, which is totally unnoticeable on the flatlands of Kansas, becomes a fearful problem in the vertical world. Seventy mile-an-hour winds that annoyingly disturb our sleep at home can easily kill us at altitude. The rain and snow that keeps our world living and growing will quickly drop our body temperature past the point of no return. The most frightening of all is feeling your hair stand straight up in the presence of mountain electrical storms. Even our friend the sun easily burns our skin and eyes as we ascend. God did not choose a hospitable place for communion with him.
The range of weather conditions suitable for scaling mountains is very narrow and ever so brief. No one casually or accidentally finds his or her way to the top of a mountain. It requires extremely focused determination, not often equaled in life’s everyday chores. Once you commit, it takes control; your worries and concerns from the lowlands evaporate.
The journey strips away the emotions of bitterness, envy, jealousy, and greed. As your neck strains upward your entire life is reduced to putting one foot in front of the other. The compulsion to keep going is as timeless as it is unexplainable. Climbing is a solitary act; there is no one forcing you to climb, there are no support groups, no assistants, no staff, only your body and soul on a journey for no apparent reason.
“Man is the end, the mountain is the means; the goal is not merely to reach the summit, but to improve the man.” — Walter Bonatti, legendary Italian climber.
Finally, you reach the summit, the point of maximum exposure. The climb has reduced your existence to the two most basic elements, awe and fear. The awe compels you, like Peter, James, and John, to want to remain forever, but exposure-laden fear reminds you that you must soon descend.
There is no possible way to deny the existence of God at the top of the world. The glory of His creation surrounds you. His overwhelming power is everywhere. The transition from this life to the next is ever so close. It was here that Moses, Aaron, and many others left this earth. For here the mortal ego is subdued and the soul is fully exposed to the Lord. They are spiritual places of the highest order. Your body and soul are exposed in every sense of the word. It is only by God’s grace that you are allowed to live. Life’s static is squelched and God’s signal is loud and clear.
“Why gaze in envy O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the Lord himself will dwell forever?” — Psalm 68:16
There is an alternative. Job found that sitting naked on a pile of dung surrounded by swarming flies was an equally effective way to reach the Lord. I definitely prefer mountaintops.
Kerry O'Connell of Conifer, Colo., has been a member of Climbing For Christ since April 2008. Climbing is a journey for “no apparent reason,” as Kerry wrote. Unless Christ is the center of it. If you climb to be with and speak with the Lord of the universe or if you climb to serve those who live in the high places of the world (as Climbing For Christ members are called to do), you have found reason for what French alpinist Lionel Terray called being “Conquistadors of the Useless.”
Posted Sept. 9, 2008