Tag Archives: theology

Mountain Light and Dark

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!”  A big part is the location, a mountain.

The Wonder of God's Creation

Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).

So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.

I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here).  On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up.  A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge.  I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.

But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.

O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).

The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances.  Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.

Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.

Quarks and Prayers

Quarks: sub-atomic particles

This morning I listened to a podcast of an interview with John Polkinghorne, an English physicist and theologian.  He described how his understanding of sub-atomic quarks helped him to understand prayer. http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/quarks-creation/   In the past science explained the world in mechanistic terms as fixed and determined, like a carefully made watch that is ticking away.  But now physicists realize that things are not quite so pre-determined. Quarks are the tiniest participles of matter, smaller than atoms, that scientist cannot exactly locate nor predict.  Quarks are sort of “cloudy,” fluid, chaotic.

For Polkinghorne this changed his understanding of prayer.  In a mechanical, pre-determined world, prayer did not make much sense.  Everything was locked into a set pattern of laws that God had established at creation.  But in the world of quarks, where it is much more fluid and unknown, prayer becomes an interaction with God and creation. 

In old science, God was simply a watchmaker who created the world, wound it up and then step back to observe the watch from a distance. And yes, there are some strong physical laws that guide our days.  The sun will rise in the east, not the west.  If you jump off a roof, you will not fly, but fall to earth.   Yet, in the field of quarks, God is also like a conductor, constantly interacting with the musicians who are making music together.  With quarks Polkinghorne found beauty, wonder and awe, like a good jazz improvisation. 

This makes sense to me. For example I do not pray that the January cold-snap in Minnesota will suddenly become a July heat-wave.  The seasons are fixed.  Yet the chaotic, fluid nature of weather could be influence by the prayers of God’s people.  The prophet Elijah’s prayers for a drought in I Kings 17-18 is indicative of this.  The same is true for prayers of healing; there is an interplay between our body, mind and spirit that truly affects the body’s healing.  Prayer is an invitation for God to participate in our body’s healing, in a deep elemental way.  When we pray for someone to be healed of cancer, we are asking God to allow the healthy cells in the body to replace/remove the cancer cells at the most basic biological level.

My favorite prayer of Jesus reflects such an attitude.  We pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”  As we pray this prayer we are opening ourselves to God’s activity in the world, seeking to be in the flow of  God’s Spirit.  The Spirit is not pre-determined, but more fluid and sometimes chaotic, like a dance. The will of God has fixed aspects, like the ten commandments.  Yet in our daily life, we seek to see the conductor’s baton and stay with God’s rhythm and beat.

How has your understanding of prayer changed overtime?