The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity.
-Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
These mountains — Mount Baker and the Sisters and Shuksan, the Canadian Coastal Range and the Olympics on the peninsula — are surely the edge of the known and comprehended world…. That they bear their own unimaginable masses and weathers aloft, holding them up in the sky for anyone to see plain, makes them, as Chesterton said of the Eucharist, only the more mysterious by their very visibility and absence of secrecy.
As Betsey and I left Seattle and sailed across the water by ferry to get to the retreat center where we were leading the Awakening the Creative Spirit program, Mount Rainier greeted us, rising above the Sound. She is a sacred mountain here, mostly shrouded by cloud cover or fog. When she is revealed, especially in her full glory, it is an occasion for wonder and delight. She was visible on our return trip as well — we have had a long streak of sunny and clear weather here in the Northwest– an invitation to me to pay attention to the grandeur of the work and the mystery of the process. From our retreat center we had a view of the Olympic mountain range and so I was aware of the sacred presence of mountains all week long.
During our week, one of our participants offered some essential oil she had brought for the journey to share. It was called Sacred Mountain and contained the essence of fir and pine. As we shared our stories one evening, our hands were then anointed by this oil in a spontaneous act of honoring and extending healing.
As a child, my family would go to the Tyrolean mountains in my father’s native Austria. I remember with such fondness the preparation of gear, putting on the proper socks and boots, packing a rucksack with lunch and drink, and carrying my hiking stick. At each summit we reached, a new medallion would be attached to it. I loved the collection that spanned my stick and indicated those places to which I had taken the difficult journey.
Mountains appear again and again in sacred texts as places of theophany, where the voice of God is heard in a particular way. They are places of pilgrimage, where those seeking sacred depths ascend higher and higher in a paradoxical journey. They are indeed Saints, as Merton writes, expressing the fullness of what they were created to be with no holding back.
I heard God’s voice many times over the week, mostly in whispers and gentle moments, through laughter and tears and stillness. But as I savored the time upon my return, I saw in my heart a swelling up that mirrored this grand mountain. I discovered a powerful rising of hope within me, even larger than any earthly mountain, the possibility of a world where creative expression is encouraged, uplifted, celebrated. A world where we stand in awe of a great and sacred power pulsing through the world, made visible in grand and sacred mountains as well as in a single teardrop.
What is the Sacred Mountain in your area? What does she reveal to you about the nature of the sacred?
Our next Poetry Party will be on Monday, June 1st! Blessed Sabbath to you.
© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts