When we are on top of a mountain it feels like the cosmic distance between earth and heaven is bridged.
We talk in spirituality about “mountain top” experiences – those times we have felt especially close to God, been moved by the transcendent aura that can only come from God.
While we were in Hawaii recently, John and I had the good fortune to visit one of those “high places” – the (dormant) Haleakala volcano.
For centuries, this mountain, which is visible from many parts of Maui, was a center of indigenous Hawaiian worship. The name means “House of the Sun” and even today literally millions of tourists make a pilgrimage to the top of Haleakala to see the sunrise… or in our case – not wanting to brave sub-freezing temperatures – the sunset.
As you gather there, with people from all over the world watching the sun descend, you certainly get a sense of the power and scope of nature, but you also understand the power of place to evoke a sense of God.
For that reason, theologians often call mountain tops “thin places” – certainly with mountains at very high elevation, like Everest, that’s true literally.
But the “thin” I refer to isn’t just atmospheric or referring to oxygen levels.
These spaces are called “thin” because the dividing line between this world and the spiritual world becomes paper thin.
If it is true that there is no place that God is not… it is also true that there are places where we feel sure we can reach out and touch the hand of God.
We need these places as people of faith.
For some of us it will be the mountain top – or maybe the pine forest with sunlight filtering through the trees, or the ocean with sunlight dazzling in the late afternoon.
For others it is a human-made space… a sanctuary, a church – perhaps our own or one we visit. A number of years ago I was in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris just as Mass ended, and I could feel the centuries of accumulated worship – palpable in the incense, stained glass and voices of the priests as they sang.
Because faith is a relationship, and we – our half of the relationship with God – exist in this physical realm, I believe there are places in this world where holiness accrues, where we can experience what theologians call the numinous, or the luminous presence of God.
Take some time this week to think about what those places have been for you – where you have felt the holiness of God, felt close to God – had that “mountain top” experience, whether it was on the top of a literal mountain or not.
And I’d invite you to revisit those places – in real time if possible, but if not, in memory and prayer and reflection, and allow those reflections to draw you closer to God.