Each morning I get up, open the curtains to my bedroom have a look at ‘Les Dents Du Midi’, and ‘take their temperature’. For those who don’t know ‘The Dents’ they are a very ‘teeth-like’ razor-back part of the Swiss Alps which are just at our end of the lake. They were cut in two by the glacier that formed the Rhone Valley. Because they now sit at the end of the range, just before the valley, they are a significant feature of the visual landscape or our area. Google up an image if you’d like to see them.http://www.pourtoi.biz/Photos-de-la-Suisse.htm
So the other day, I was driving toward the ‘Dents’. The day was beautiful, and the sky behind the ‘Dents’ was azure and I was in a particularly good mood. Looking at the ‘dents’ it came to me just how massive they are. It is like they are a huge great triangle with a very wide base on the ground, which then ranges into the heavens to make the sharp ‘teeth’ that give the ‘Dents’ their name. I’m not a particularly ‘nature’ kind of guy, but I remember one time before, seeing a rainbow that went all the way from one part of the countryside to the other, making a complete arc. I stopped the car and wept at the beauty of it.
This moment, was like the one with the rainbow. But it was then full of mental associations: most of them from the psalms. In a flash I thought of ‘Horeb/Sinai’ the mountain of God, and ‘Mount Zion.’ God for the Hebrews is associated with mountains, but not identified with them. The psalms keep on saying that rocks melt like wax in the presence of the Lord. Looking at the ‘Dents’ I was amazed at the power that seemed to radiate from this block of mountain and how looking at them reminds me of the power of God.
One of the commands of God, in Exodus is that, as the covenant is made for the first time, no one should touch the mountain. This mountain is a holy place, and so ought not to be touched or stepped upon.
Thinking about this I remembered other mountains in Switzerland like the Eiger and the Jungfraujoch. These mountains are for climbing. Even though the ‘Jungfraujoch’ is named after the virgin Mary, a clearly religious association with the mountains, these mountains have
people all over them.
So I start to wonder ‘what is the purpose of climbing things’? As a young boy, like many I guess, I used to climb a lot of trees. On one summer holiday, I want with my sister and my father on a long and difficult walk up to the top of a ridge that we could see from our house, just to say ‘See those trees on the ridge? We walked there!’ When we were climbing trees, at the top we would say ‘I can see your place from here!’ or even ‘I can see Tasmania from here!’
Climbing up things for eight year olds is about ‘being able’ and acquiring self esteem from being able to perform. But clearly too going ‘up’ to places is about being able to find a perspective that as ground dwellers, and especially small, eight year old ground dwellers, we cannot have. Going up things is about saying ‘I have been there’ when ‘there’ represents a perspective that is a long way away from ‘here’.
St. Brendan the Navigator made a leather boat, and is reported to have sailed from Ireland to Canada. He went because of psalm 107 ‘Those who go down to the sea in ships, and ply their trade on the great waters, these have seen the works of God and his wonders in the deep.’
That captures my reaction to seeing ‘the Dents’ that day. It was a case of being surprised by the wonder of them, and then turning to God in the associations that came. The mountains became like a metaphor or sacrament of the wonder of God that I had heard about from other places (like the Bible).
But this for me means that they ought not be climbed. Thinking about it now, I am not all that attracted by the idea of climbing the highest mountain. What is that? As if the existence of something as big as the mountain is an affront to my own ability to control the world, so that by climbing up the mountain I exert some kind of control over what presents itself to me as bigger than I am. The desire to climb mountains for that reason is an admission of my own lack of something. I can ‘get’ climbing ‘up’ in order to have perspective. I can ‘get’ climbing in order to see the ‘works of God and his wonders’ I can ‘get’ not climbing as a mark of respect and honouring of the holiness of God.
We still do this a bit. There used to be a time when only certain people were allowed to be in the sanctuary of the church. There used o be a time when people acknowledged the presence of God in a Church building by bowing as one passed the sanctuary lamp. Even today we do not want people ‘climbing all over’ our church building on the inside by being able as tourists (as opposed to worshippers) to just go where they like and to take pictures from wherever they like. The inside of our building is divided up into places that can be ‘climbed on’ and places that cannot.
Like the mountains, the physical elements of the building represent to us the wonder of God. Our proper response to the presence of this mystery is wonder and worship, not the desire to exercise control over it by climbing it or touching it. I do not want t climb ‘the Dents’.
I think that Gerard Manley Hopkins said it better than me though.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Here is another song that has been
going around in my head recently.
Be still for the presence of the Lord
The Holy One is here
Come bow before Him now
With reverence and fear
In Him no sin is found
We stand on holy ground
Be still for the presence of the Lord
The Holy One is here.
As I continue to live in the presence of the ‘Dents’ so I wwant to live more and more in the presence of God