February 26, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
Several years ago, we lived in Ketchikan. It was while living in Ketchikan that we decided that I should finally do something about the stirring in my heart. With the Bishop’s permission and the congregation’s support we sold everything and headed off on the journey to seminary and many rewarding years of service as an ordained minister.
A few days before we left Ketchikan I took a day to say goodbye to a friend. We spent that day walking to the top of Deer Mountain. Deer Mountain is to Ketchikan what Mt. Roberts is to Juneau, what Verstovia is to Sitka, and what the highest peak in any given location is to many other communities. It was a long hike to the top.
Once we reached the crest I saw why so many had made the trip before us. The view was breathtaking. The islands that surround Ketchikan; Annette, Pennock, Gravina, and Prince of Wales in the distance, were laid out like forested jewels. The waterways laced between them as an invitation to come and explore. Below us was the city. Even from that distance we saw surprising detail. We watched as cars and trucks made their way around the streets and others found places to park. We could see people walking, and entering shops and offices. Others appeared to stop and visit with those they encountered along the way. We were watching their lives unfold. It felt as if we could see into their futures.
What struck me was the fact that all that I saw from that mountaintop had been constantly before my eyes for years. There was nothing new in that vision. Everyone below was pursuing the same lives as before. The same was true for each island and the waterways that surrounded them. What was new was the opportunity to comprehend it as a whole, and begin to sense what might come next. I carried this realization with me as I came down that mountain.
Most of us have had moments like this. Moments in which we have had a chance to step back – look at our own lives, recognize where we have been and gain a sense of what God was calling forth in our tomorrows. These are mountaintop moments. One truth about them is that they don’t have to occur on a physical mountaintop. These insights can burst on us in a moment, or unfold over an extended period of time almost anywhere. Afterward, they tend to change how we see from that moment on.
What is also true is that these moments of insight recognize no master. They come as they will. Despite this, the ancient spiritual traditions have learned that we can place ourselves in the way of these experiences. The first and most obvious way is to climb to a mountaintop. Another is to pull away to a place of solitude. Some choose to fast. Others engage in various forms of discipline. Many read scripture and pray. A time tested avenue is to attach yourself to a spiritual teacher and listen to this teacher’s words. Peter, James, and John did all of these as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, and the view from that mountaintop transformed the rest of their lives. These same practices are the practices of Lent.
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. For those of us who follow this Christian tradition, the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are intended to be a time in which we follow the examples of Peter, James, and John. We are invited to step back from the busyness of life, place ourselves more fully into the hands of our teacher, Jesus, and come away with Him. The hope of the season is to be given eyes which see as the disciples saw from their own mountaintop. More than this, we hope to return from our experience changed, ready to more fully live our faith in Christ Jesus, and make a difference in the world as those before us have. After all, the point of any mountaintop is the life lived in the valleys below.
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 217)