No one wanted to climb the rock but me. It was getting dark, and everyone was tired. But, really? Didn’t they see how glorious it was, how compelling? The pyramid shape, the rocky ledges, the ancient crumbling fort on its summit? Finally, I won. We tied on our sneakers and set off.
It was indeed magically majestic, and worthy of our efforts.
Who can resist a mountain? For the ancients, mountain tops meant protection, domination, victory, safety.
For others, mountain summits evoke worship. Never have I seen so many crosses atop mountains as I have in Greece.
This week, we stayed in Meteora, surrounded by a bowl of mountains and monoliths laid bare. It’s a holy place, say all the books. And so say the generations of monks and nuns who have made these rocks their perch and their home since the 11th century. Their impossible home. But chosen, for many, to be closer to God.
At one time there were thirty monasteries here in Meteora, (which means “hanged from nowhere”). Some were only accessible by rope ladder, by net (hauled up by a giant hook). The very presence of these buildings and the monks and nuns who inhabit them is miraculous.
The day we hiked from the village to the summit of one monastery, I admit it. As I climbed the switchbacks for an hour, wending high and higher, until emerging into the stone steps chisled out of a massive monolith, as I ascended a steep half tunnel and suddenly emerged in a stone house among the clouds, heaven felt near. The icons in the chapel were stunning. The quiet, overwhelming. The reverence, palpable. I lit a candle. I prayed. I envied the two monks who call this home. I wanted to stay.
I wanted to step away from the buzzing human hive and hang from the sky this way, suspended in prayer. Imagine. No braying news hounds. no politicians, no freeways. No internet. no noise. Just me. And God.
But I know the truth about myself, and maybe everyone else. All of us, even the inhabitants of high castles and underground caves are a confusing blend of God-hunger and self-satisfaction, purity and jealousy, holiness and selfishness.
I live every summer on a far north island Alaskan island off an island. I know the truth about it, that ultimately retreat from the world is retreat from others.
And I know too If my own soul state is my sole concern, and if I think I will be holier, purer for my remove from people, I am in error. I am as polluted as anyone else, and the cure is not isolation but God and neighbor-immersion.
When we let the world shrink to one, we can believe that in caring for ourselves we are caring for the world . ..
In Paul’s Mars Hill address to the Athenians he spoke the truth, that God’s desire is that men and women
“would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.”
He is not far from any of us. We don’t have to chisel stone steps up a thousand foot monolith. We don’t have to be hoisted to a cloister in the clouds to find him. He is here, in the world he created and still reigns over. He has come down to us.
Close your eyes right now, or open them, and you will find him.