It is hard to describe how the simplicity of a mountain stirs the soul. Perhaps it is the gentle flicker of lights in the valley, seemingly so distant, but just bright enough to rekindle memories of days gone by. Perhaps it is the firm gust of wind, dancing between the pines and whisking the nighttime clouds rapidly away. Perhaps it is the stillness of time on a mountain, the rocky peaks ever so content to reach toward the heavens. Even the soft flicker of stars appears much closer here. Perhaps it is the solitude; the veracious escape from the appendages of life which burden the soul. It is a place where the soul is renewed; where the cleansing power of life is well at work.
The mountain indeed simplifies our very existence. It is a place where the Creator’s beauty reaches into the depths of our hearts. It is a place where the mind is clear, the heart is open and the soul is cradled. It is a place of calling and a place of the called. Those who seek the mountains rejoice to receive its solitary song of the winds and return to the valley in an ever so brighter flicking of light.
The mountain breathes life, but at the same time is one of the harshest purveyors of life. There is a sense of melancholy on a mountain. Perhaps, it is the sudden emotional release of life in the valley. Perhaps it is the lonely separation from time, a measure which grips every place and experience with its overreaching tenticles. Yet, each breath of mountain air, chilled as it may be, warms my lungs with simplicity and positive energy. Perhaps, it is simply the position of a mountain that is difficult. It forces you to climb beyond your own understanding and look back upon the flickering meaning of your life. It is as if you are in two places at once; a tiny flickering dot and high upon a rocky outcrop. When I am in the valley, I see myself on the mountain and when I am on the mountain, I see myself in the valley. It is a difficult separation of self.
Change is readily apparent on a mountain. Very often, the first winds of fall chill the mountain air months before they reach the valley. A changing Earth can be seen most drastically on a mountain, as evidenced by rapidly melting glaciers in the high-country and the periodic rock fall. Yet, at the base, the mountain appears virtually unchangeable. It is seen as a rigid and constant landscape; a landscape with both extremes and stability. Perhaps it is the change, which stirs the soul.
In In the Spirit of Happiness, the Monks of New Skete, New York describe a custom they have with the new noviates. All of the monks and nuns gather on an evening to watch slides of the early days of the monastery. For the younger noviates, it is a time to see the tradition they are becoming a part of as they make a major life decision. The older monks are able to comment on a number of “remember when” moments. Some are happy moments such as “remember when the cows got loose in the pasture and ended up in parking lot.” Then, some are more somber, such as “That was Bob’s last Christmas before his heart attack.” For the older monks, the slideshow is very powerful in that it shows the constant reality of change. We all too often are so close to ourselves-we see ourselves as a flickering light-but do not see how bright or dim we have become because we are surrounded by our own light. We, in essense, are not conscious on how we are changing until we see ourselves back at another time. For the monks, they could recall the moments, feelings and attitudes in the slides, but as one monk so elequantly described, it really brings home how much everyone had changed in growth with the Lord.
Thinking about change in the mindset of a monastery is though-provoking in the sense that monasteries are perceived as places of similarity, tradition, constancy, and lasting sameness. Monastaries are to prayer and reflection as communion is to a church. They are seemingly places which do not bear the echoes of change. This is much like the mountain. Yet, as the monks see themselves through the photographs and fellowship, they see a collective journey of spiritual growth, self-reflection, philosophical wisdom, and prayerful reflection. Their lives are in constant flux much like the rest of us.
Every essence of our being craves the sameness and security of understanding life. It is a natural human desire to seek out the familiar; both places and faces which remind us of comforting sameness. Yet, the Creator does not like us remaining in our comfort zone. Spiritual growth is constant-at times very uncomfortable-and the more we seek of God’s will for our lives, the more God will challenge us to draw close to Him. Just at the point where we say to God; “I think I understand this-I know your will”, we will find ourselves on the mountain again looking at the flickering lights.
Recognizing the need for change is one thing, but how does change actually occur? We need to reorient our thinking from ourselves to that of God. We need to break our habits of complacency and move towards habits of spiritual fulfillment. Perhaps this begins with taking a different trail up the mountain and not being afraid of seeing the flickering light change in the valley.