Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Thought of a Mountain

I grew up in the flat mid-western prairies, just outside Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was flat. Not that I really noticed, mind you. I mean, if that's all you ever really saw, it wouldn't occur to you to think about how flat it was. After all, a fish doesn't think about how wet the water is.

And then there were the small hills. I remember this one hill, kind of a rise, and we lived at the bottom of it. It ran for quite a distance, parallel to our street, just across from our house. If I wanted to ride my bicycle to the beach, then I had to pedal up that hill. That was the challenge of my childhood, to pedal up that hill. I still remember the great joy I felt the first time I did it. Before that, I would ride around the block so that I could get a fast start. I would downshift as soon as I could when I started going up. And it never failed. Halfway up I would run out of strength and have to get off the bike. But one day, I did it. I made it all the way up that hill. I was so happy, so proud of myself. Perseverance had paid off.

Then, years later, I moved to Winnipeg. And I thought Chicago was flat. Heh. Little did I know.

In the little suburb on the lake where I grew up I could see Chicago far off in the distance. I could see the towering skyscrapers reaching up into, and often past, the clouds, lo those 20 miles away.

In Winnipeg, there was nothing on the horizon. Only sky. I used to joke that I could watch my dog run away for a week, it was so flat.

But it was spectacular, at the same time. For those who think the prairies are boring are failing to look up. I have never seen sky like I did on the prairies. You can lie down in the middle of a field and truly get the impression of the heavens looking down on you. You could truly see the firmament, that overarching dome of the sky, for there was nothing to get in the way of that vision on the horizon.

That's something I really began to understand, living on the prairies: the breadth of God's Kingdom.

Here, in Victoria, I don't get that same feeling. There are real hills everywhere, not those tiny ones that tormented my bicycle riding youth. These are actual rises in the ground that challenge me as a fully grown adult. The other day when I was riding the bike home from the repair shop, I thought I was going to die halfway up that hill. I mean, I know I'm a bit out of shape, and that my stamina is not what it should be, but come on. This was nuts. And I wasn't even halfway up that hill. Plus I still had another few hills to go. My legs ached for days after that short ride. And this is the same ride that my wife does most every day. Twice a day. (Sometimes she really tests my love for her.)

Here, in Victoria, there are hills everywhere. In Winnipeg I could walk on the sidewalk and see what shops were there many blocks away. In Victoria, I'm lucky if I can see two blocks away, for they really are blocks. They block the vision.

And in the distance, I don't see the city. I see the mountains, many miles away. Tall, majestic, imposing mountains on the horizon, across the water, far away.

Mountains form a large part of my life out here on the Coast. I mean, I don't get to visit them much, for they really are far away, and mostly in another country. But they are what form the hills. They are what dominate the horizon.

Twice, in recent months, they came more to my attention than usual, and both times in a spiritual sense.

The first was when my family and I went up to Mount Washington to go snow tubing, which is a ton of fun when you go with your 8-year old son. This is when you get on a giant inner tube and they tow you up the mountain, and then you go sliding down on it. It was awesome.

But when I was being towed up, I had the bounty of looking over the mountains in the distance. A few moments of silent contemplation amidst the joy of the afternoon.

I stared off at them, so tall and majestic, covered in snow, and pristine in their beauty. I could see how we had marred the snow around us for our enjoyment, and noticed just how little we had actually touched them. If we were to look from far above, we would barely even notice where we humans had built our recreation area.

And when I think about the Cause, and just how majestic it is, I realize how we can explore to our hearts content and still never even begin to mar the beauty of the Faith. Some will ski down its metaphoric slopes, while others will tube down it. Some will wander among the trees and the forest, while others may build snow forts or snowmen. Some of us will even dig down to the rock and look for the gold that lies hidden in its depths. There is plenty for us to do.

When looking through the Writings, what really stands out is how often they talk of being steadfast like a mountain, or lofty. In one quote, Baha'u'llah says, "Be ye as a mountain in the Cause of your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Unconstrained." To me, this is a reminder to cultivate those virtues within us. To be mighty against the tests that come our way, to show some glory in what we do, and to be unconstrained in our teaching efforts. And when I think how a mountain shows those virtues, it helps clarify my thinking along those lines.

The other time, in recent days, when the mountains really impressed themselves upon me was when I went down to the beach to meditate on them in the distance. It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny, crisp, with just a touch of wind.

At that time it occurred to me that the mountains are huge, awe-inspiring, demonstrative of the majesty of God. And yet, when you see them from a distance they are so small in comparison to the grandness of the world. And this world, so rich in its diversity, so vast that we have only recently explored its outermost corners, is but a speck compared to the sun. And this sun, and the entire solar system we have not yet even begun to explore in any depth, having only reached the surface of the moon, and seen the surface of the other planets, is minuscule compared to the enormity of this entire galaxy. And this is only one galaxy or millions.

Truly, it is as Baha'u'llah says, "And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence."

1 comment:

  1. Mead, this is very timely for me, because I'm trying to learn to commune with nature more, as part of my communion with God.

    I never write poetry, but I was so moved by the mountains when I lived in Martinique, that I wrote a poem about them.