That God is in the mountains has been the story of faith since Moses ascended Mount Sinai in the 12th century BCE. There, between the rock clefs, he covered his face until God passed by and Moses glimpsed the back of his head. Some four hundreds years later the prophet Elijah was called by God again to go to the mountain. On his pilgrimage he went to Mount Horeb, and as he stood before a cave through wind, earthquake, and fire he covered his head and heard God in the silence and returned to the valley to anoint Elisha. Jesus and his beloved disciples in this transfiguration story ascend Mount Tabor and there see Jesus stand with Elijah and Moses transfigured before them in dazzling white as the cloud passes over and echoes the words from Jesus’ baptism, "This is my beloved son." It becomes the climatic turn in the gospel of Mark as Jesus returns to the valley with his eyes set on Jerusalem and begins that journey toward the fulfillment of the vision. Those same mountains, Sinai, Horeb, and Tamor are before us still. They remain the holy places full of dreams and visions. There is the call in all of us in the valley of our lives to ascend the mountain to glimpse the back of God, to hear God in the silence, to dream dreams, and to return to the valley with our eyes set on Jerusalem.
About eight years ago on the third pilgrimage to Ecuador we drove up to a high mountain called Corazon, the heart. The school was open but we couldn’t figure out how to move forward. We went to the mountain with huge desire to see something of a sign. We spent hours climbing slowly in the van and then finally stopped and trekked the rest of the way on steep stones along dramatic cultivated hillsides where Ecuadorian farmers looked like they lived diagonally. We climbed into the clouds where the drizzle sat on our skin and we couldn’t see the person ahead or behind. The way we knew we were on the top was there was nowhere left to climb. So we stood at the edge of the mountain and saw only grey, dense, cold fog, and heard voices scattered around talking and laughing about being soaked and cold. I saw nothing, until I closed my eyes. Then, maybe because of all the climbing, the desire to be with God, or the moisture acting like a prism in the thin mountain air, a rainbow like ripples in a pond danced before my eyes and melted into deep pools of peace. I still think that those dancing circles of color behind my eyes on Corazon may be as close as I ever get to the back of God’s head. Then someone said it was time to go back to the school and work.
The disciples, after the transfiguration, thought it was so good to be on the mountain; they wanted to stay and build tabernacles. But the cloud had already passed and Jesus was returning to the valley. What makes the mountain so beautiful is the memory of walking in the valley and thought of returning to share the story of Good News. Love says after the dream, "There is the waking and the doing." Discipleship means going back to the valley and reminding everyone, “You have a dream too; and you can go to the mountain and be with God.” It means traveling to the valley and the mountain and remembering they are one landscape. God is in the valley, and in the shadow of death. The valley is the place of love and delight the hymn says.
The community gathered is a uniquely sacred place that sees the beauty of the mountain, the depth of the valley and allows us to meet where they touch. This gathered community, this point of Grace, is like the fulcrum where balance is found. It is where the convex moves into the concave between our coming and going. Mathematically it looks like a mobius strip. It looks like a twisted figure eight that has only one side and one boundary. The mountain and valley are both there balancing the eternal figure and reminding us that our journey lives in both places and that God is in it all. Our common Christian life, I believe with all my heart, depends on be willing to go to the mountain and dream our lives, and then to come down again with our eyes set on Jerusalem and help someone else get there. We meet one another between procession and recession on our point of grace to give and take-- to help one another get there and come home safe. This is the place where the mountain climbers meet the repellers, where the givers and the receivers blur into a loving community. It is the time where our desire to be with God is as real as being with God. This is the lesson where we remember we have learned more from mercy than justice and offer a hand to anyone. This is the liturgy where the burning of the wine in our throats sates our longing to be with the holy. This is gap when what we believe we know about God is wiped out like writing in the sand by a wave of gratitude for mystery. This is the sacrament where we feel our hearts move from stone to flesh and the rush of blood heats our cheeks. This is where the fear of the reality and finality of death is met by the hope of resurrection. This space between the mountain and valley, this point of grace, is where the pain and loss we have ever known becomes our sure footing to keep walking and keep proclaiming the Good News.