“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.” Matthew 17:1
There is something special about high places. Most known cultures understood the spiritual connection between high places and the transcendental as they understood it. And some cultures even tried to build temples and monuments on top of high places to underscore this belief.
You see examples of this in non-Christian cultures, such as the Parthenon which was dedicated to the goddess Athena that still stands on the Athenian Acropolis in Greece. Christian cultures have done the same; the ruins of the Basilica of St John the Evangelist which is also the burial site for the Disciple Jesus loved, sits high on the Ayasuluk Hill in ancient Ephesus. I’ve been fortunate to be able to have stood in both places. And I have been blessed to stand at the base of Croagh Patrick, as it rises 2,500 feet high along the western edge of Ireland; it is believed that St. Patrick spent 40 days on its summit to prepare for his evangelical mission to the then-pagan island.
Some of my favorite high places have no buildings on them at all. In the late 1980’s, well before I started taking my faith life more seriously, I was living in southern Nevada. Each year I escaped the late summer heat by heading nearly five hours north to bow hunt in and around North Schell Peak. The mountain stood nearly 12,000 feet high. While I never climbed to the top, I did climb twice to the tree line. Although my mind at the time was mostly on mule deer, I watched sunrise from there one morning. It was enough of an emotionally moving experience to climb up there the next morning as well.
This week Michelle and I headed to Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to enjoy the autumn colors. On Tuesday morning, fortified with breakfast from Donckers, we set out to climb nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain. The climb is not overly strenuous; we saw several children on the trail. But to someone who was just 36 days out from knee replacement surgery, it was challenge enough. The last leg to the summit is steep enough that there are a series of staircases to help reduce any risk of injury. I counted: 299 steps in all. The summit brings you to several observation decks about 1,000 feet above sea level.
The view was spectacular. Inland, you could see ridge after ridge covered in maples in full color. Lake Superior sprawled all across the view to the north. I counted 21 distinct shades of blue between the water and the sky. God’s full palette was on display.
The typical view in Northeast Wisconsin is perhaps a mile or two in farm country; it’s much less in urban areas. The view from Sugar Loaf was easily 25 or more miles in all directions. It is good for the soul to occasionally experience the largeness of God, lest we forget. And very much unlike my experience at dawn on North Schell Peak 35 years ago, this moment I was much more aware that it was God’s presence and glory surrounding me.
I am grateful for his patience with me.
His Peace <><