Having grown up in Colorado, the mountains have always held a special place in my heart. This theme is particularly fresh on my mind because recently I had precisely that—a mountain top experience. We are all called to live the life of a mountain top experience in our psychological and spiritual lives, and this one was just that. It was unforgettable in several ways. First, I hiked with a group to the top of Mt. Elbert (14,439 feet), the highest mountain in Colorado, and the highest mountain in the Rocky Mountain Range which extends from Canada to Mexico. What makes this experience even more unique is that in our group were two nuns who were dressed in their full habit! Yes, climbing 4800 vertical feet and over nine miles, these sisters rocked the mountain… and passed me up several times along the way. As you can imagine, lots of people stared at them, many jaws dropped when the fellow mountaineers saw them—and some great conversations came from them giving witness to their consecration through wearing their habit.
The mountain top analogy is very prevalent in scripture in both the New and Old Testaments. Noah’s Arc settled on a mountain and from there a new beginning took shape (Genesis chapters 6-9). On Mount Moriah, Abraham’s faith was tested when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22: 1-14). In the burning bush on Mount Horeb, Moses received the call to free the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians (Exodus 3), and on this same mountain top he received the Ten Commandments. The great prophet Isaiah assured Israel they would receive abundant blessings from the heights of Mount Zion (Isaiah 25).
In the New Testament, Jesus used the mountain top motif constantly. He delivered his core teachings with The Sermon on the Mount (Mt chapter 5-7). Jesus often went up a high mountain to spend the night in prayer. After one of these nights in prayer, Jesus called some of his followers to come up the mountain to him and by name gave them the title of Apostles (Mk 3: 13-19). It was on top of a mountain in the wilderness where Jesus spent 40 days fasting and being tempted by the evil one (Mt 4: 1-11). Jesus lead three of his disciples; Peter, James and John, to have a deeper experience of him on the Mount of the Transfiguration (Mt 17: 1-13). Atop Mount Calvary is where our Lord made the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption by dying on the cross (Jn 19: 16-19). The place where Jesus was buried and where he conquered death in the Resurrection was near Calvary atop a mountain (Mt 28: 1-10). Finally, Jesus chose a mountain top in Galilee to depart from this world during his Ascension and Commission (Mt 28: 16-20). It was here where Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them… I am with you always until the end of the age.”
In Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth, he outlines the Bibles mountain symbolisms and how we can find meaning of it in our lives. He says, “The mountain is a place of ascent – not only outward, but also inward ascent; it is a liberation from the burden of everyday life a breathing in the pure air of creation; it offers a view of the broad expanse of creation and it’s beauty; it gives one an inner peak to stand on and an intuitive sense the Creator.” In our everyday life how often do we need liberation from our burdens, a view of the broad expanses, and a feeling of standing on an inner peak? Ultimately, opening our hearts to following our Creator's plan for us brings this transcendence and freedom in our own lives.
Abraham Maslow, the famous humanistic psychologist of the mid 1900’s, also used mountain symbolism (a pyramid) to describe human freedom and transcendence. His contribution to psychology was identifying six hierarchy of needs that we as humans seek to attain in our attempt to live life to the full. The first rungs of the bottom of his pyramid are primal needs such as air, food, water, safety and security. Once these needs are met one can advance higher and seek to fulfill the needs we have for social belonging with family, friends and intimacy as well as the need for esteem and to be respected. The highest point is coined by Maslow as self-actualization and self-transcendence. According to Maslow, living life on top of the pyramid consists of one living to their full potential – self-actualization, and giving oneself to something higher than oneself through altruism and spirituality – self-transcendence. Was this not Jesus’ challenge for himself and for us atop the mountains he frequented? I believe so! And, I know a few sisters who taught me that lesson on a beautiful mountain top in the Rockies!