(During a recent Sunday worship service we had an AMA time, and this question was asked by one of our kids in service. It is a brilliant question and I want to share my response with you all. Here you go!)
Thank you for this thoughtful question. I will do my best to offer a response. Since I am still getting to know your family, I am not sure all the places you have lived. But I know that you live pretty close to our mountains just above Pasadena and Altadena. I can see them from my house, and bet you have an even better view since you are closer to them than we are. I believe you have grown up your whole life in the shadow of these mountains. I have only been this close to mountains for a couple of years now, since I am from the southern part of our country. New Orleans to be exact. In New Orleans we have no mountains. We don’t even have hills. It is as flat as a kitchen counter. I remember being your age and my parents took me and my brother to Colorado. Have you been before? Their mountains are insane. They are solid rock and full of snow. In the Rocky Mountains, it is hard to find much flat ground. So when I was a kid and traveled there, I was overwhelmed. That feeling you get in your stomach when you ride a rollercoaster, that was how I felt when I saw those Colorado mountains for the first time. I felt small, even for a kid. And the world felt huge and scary close all at the same time.
Our mountains are a little bit more gentle, and because they are on one side of our city, less suffocating. But I still have a small shudder of joy when I see them. You sound like you think about our mountains a lot too. Since you asked this question, I know you have been paying attention to the world around you. Maybe that is why we need mountains, because we have a hard time paying attention to the world around us. Mountains are hard to ignore. That little trail of ants out in your yard, you might walk by them every day and never notice. Why do we need ants? It is a good question too, but fewer people notice ants anymore, unless it is to smush them quick and then go back to forgetting they exist. Mountains remind me that there is a lot of world out there that is not-John-Jay. They remind you that there is a lot of world that is not-you. Have you noticed that when you see the mountains you feel different inside, like you are bigger and smaller all at once?
Mountains are also like signs that tell you where to look. Next time you are in public, look at what other people are looking at. I bet almost everyone is looking down at a phone. When we stare at that little shiny screen in our hands, it makes our backs hunch and our necks bend over. People start to look like they are turning inward, focusing all of their attention on themselves and the very small world inside their phone. A very long time ago a writer said that this way of turning in on the self was the effects of living in a difficult and at times painful world, especially when we are the ones making it more difficult and painful.
Mountains tell us to look up, and to look out. To see a mountain, we have to literally stand up straight, with good posture and neck extended. Try breathing while bent over like you are staring at a phone. Now stand up straight and look up at our mountains. Does it feel easier to breathe when looking down at the screen or up at the mountain? Maybe mountains help us take deep breaths. And breathing is one of the gifts God gives to all living things. No one takes deep breaths anymore, but we should. When we breathe, it is like we are inhaling God’s power and love.
People used to build churches and holy temples on the tops of mountains. They sensed that mountains had a special kind of energy. Sometimes people want to hear God talk to them, and mountains have always been places where God’s voice is easier to hear. This is called a Thin Place. Have you ever pressed your ear to a wall in your house to listen in on the next room over? It helps to hear if the wall is thin. Sometimes it feels like God is in the next room over, and if we could just find a thin spot in the house, we could hear God’s voice. Mountains are often thin places. Moses hears God on a mountain. Elijah hears God on a mountain. Jesus hears God on a mountain. I don’t think that God lives on the tops of mountains, because I believe God can be found anywhere. I just think that humans have a hard time being quiet and still long enough to hear anything anymore. Maybe mountains help us slow down and quiet down. Like leaning with your ear to the wall to listen, the mountain quiets us down. God’s voice is easier to hear, not because God is louder, but because we are being better listeners.
Maybe mountains are here because God loves them. Maybe that is why you and I are here too. And why your question is so great, because in the end it helps us to see what God’s love looks like. And sometimes it looks like mountains just to the north of our window, asking us to consider their presence in our lives.
Pastor John Jay