It was through the desert, the many years of the Exodus, which created a time of testing as well as discovery for the Hebrew people. Here they became a nation no longer enslaved by the Egyptians, but a nation of their own.
Nothing would remain the same after the Exodus through the desert. For the desert is a place of discovery: discovery of self and identity; a discovery of what you are made of; a discovery of being found by God.
Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus all were found in the desert. But the desert will gradually give way to another spiritual landscape, the mountains. It is here, on the mountain that both the Hebrews and the Apostles were tested. You know the stories: the Hebrews received the Law on the mountain, only after returning to the worship of false gods. The Apostles saw the Word made Flesh as divine, only not sure how to respond. Both of these epiphanies, these manifestations of God’s Presence, have some common elements which might help us on our Lenten Journey.
- The mountain, physically and spiritually, is both a destination and part of the journey. You must work hard to see the view from the top, and even then a view is not guaranteed. Often on top of a mountain, fog, mist, or clouds obscure your vision, as it did the Apostles. For us spiritually, the mountain might represent heaven, but heaven is both a destination and part of the journey.
Reaching the mountain top of heaven is truly our destination in life, but as St. Teresa said, “I will spend my time in heaven, doing good on earth.” If heaven is a place of life, life means growth. Therefore we will continue to journey in heaven, not remaining stagnate in our love of God, but growing and stretching.
2. The mountain was a place of separation for the Apostles from Jesus, Abraham from the Lord, and the Israelites from Moses. While God cannot not be with us, we can feel separated from Him. Jesus was communing with Moses and Elijah; Moses with the Lord; Isaac separated from Abraham in understanding of what was happening.
It would appear that separation into solitude in part of the mountain experience. We are “with,” yet alone; in “common,” yet individual. Born into a community, we must remember we entered into a community as an individual, yet not by ourselves. This mystery of being “with” yet “separate” from the Lord here on earth is part of the mountain experience.
3. Finally, the mountain is a place of communication between the Lord and us. “This is my beloved son….” Moses receiving the Law; Abraham visited by the angel. It is this experience, this yearning for communication with the Divine that makes us want to climb the craggy mountainside to reach its summit. It is the hope of communing with the Divine Persons of the Trinity, that you and seek the Lord, crossing the desert and entering into the mountain experience.
From a commentary on the Hobbit, “There is an old rule in adventure stories, from The Odyssey to Star Wars, that the hero’s personal growth must be accompanied by a journey underground. After Bilbo falls off Dori’s shoulders while fleeing from the goblins, he’s forced to fend for himself as he tries to find his way out of the Misty Mountains. In doing so, he has to confront Gollum and goblins, and discovers talents he didn’t know he had — deception, path-finding, riddle-telling, etc. Thus, the Misty Mountains represent Bilbo’s maturation as a character and an adventurer: when he enters them, he’s still immature (literally being carried on someone else’s back!), but when he leaves, he’s confident enough to navigate his own way around.”
We too in our Lenten and life journey must travel through the desert or underground to reach the mountain. We enter the mountain experience immature, but leave as a new man. For remember Jesus too entered into a desert, only to climb a mountain, Mount Calvary, where he would forever create a new man: and that new man and woman is you and I.
From the desert to the mountain, our Lenten journey continues.