Meditation by Brian Crisp
While most of my 14-year-old peers were sequestered away in the confines of the institutional-colored walls of public school reading Beowulf, my escape ushered long strides up a steep and winding dirt trail canopied with languid oaks while my lungs infiltrated the cool air and I severely gripped a tattered copy of On The Road. Connemara, the mountain host to a famous poet and noteworthy geneticist, was my almost everyday refuge from the boredom and toil of public high school. At the mountain’s summit, a flat rock peaked above the tallest pine trees and provided a sun-drenched respite for reading and a commanding view of my county that made my high school look properly infinitesimal. My teenage rebellion started with the need for my space, my path, and my way, and led me to the top of a mountain where I was quiet, chilled, and alone. Breathing deeply, I always thought, “I could stay here forever.”
Repeated reported truancies relegated my escape to weekends and holidays.
Mountain imagery is prevalent throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Like my own youth, mountains were a physical reality of the landscape. Beyond their literal presence, they have sure symbolic significance of being in communion with God. Moses receives the covenant and commandments on Mount Sinai; The Temple in Jerusalem is perched on Mount Zion; Jesus delivers a new social and political order with the Sermon on the Mount; and the transfiguration brings together prophets and disciples on an unnamed high mountain. These mountain top experiences include bright lights, ominous clouds, and booming voices that segue into new understandings about the Sacred. The congregants, inspired by such revelations, make the same proclamation I did at 14 years old: “I could stay here forever.”
Whether at the top of Connemara or a Palestinian topography, staying on the mountain is never an option. Moses had to retreat from Sinai to be with the people in the desert; the presence of the Sacred was never solely contained in Zion’s temple but brought forth to all those below; Jesus continually dragged the disciples off the mountain to be with lepers, widows, and the forgotten; and my parents assured me I could never live alone with a book on a National Historical Site. Isolation and individualism are tricky and deceptive friends. These stories simply remind me that being with God requires me to be in community with others. Leaving the mountain compels us to work in the margins of life and reminds us that seeing the face of others is seeing the face of God. Truly, this is the work of the Sacred.
Recently, I retreated to Western North Carolina for three days of silence to discern a spiritual calling. As part of this practice, my daily meditation and prayer reunited with Connemara. The morning hikes were very similar, but much different from those of my youth. My time was still quiet, yet shouldered with the wisdom of my friends and community members. Their words and lives rustled gently like the leaves of the canopied trail. Simply, it affirmed that I may be by myself but, thankfully, I am never alone. Coming off the mountain the last morning there were no booming voices or ominous clouds, but there was a soft light hitting my packed car ordained for a return to Raleigh. That which is truly the Sacred pushes us out to and amongst the world.
During the season of Lent, daily meditations from members of the Pullen community are being posted online. Subscribe by email at www.pullen.org/category/meditation.