My family and I went up to Estes Park. We were surrounded by mountains. Standing on the front porch of the YMCA of the Rockies lodge, my 13 year old daughter, Nina, looked up. Long’s Peak, named Nesotaieux by the Arapaho, was both right in front of us and off in the distance. “What even are we compared to the mountains? What are humans, anyway? Who are we?” Nina said.
Martin Laird, one of my favorite contemplative writers, speaks of the need to simply observe our thoughts and distractions when we are in contemplative prayer. We don’t fight them off. We don’t try to not have them at all. We observe them and note them before they become a video that we get sucked into. No more chatter. No more evaluating and comparing. No more: “Am I doing it right?” Just steady, calm, liberating gaze. We gaze from that place deep within us that is neither object nor subject, just the place where the I and the divine are one.
He compares this steady, calm gaze of our thoughts and distractions to the mountain. The mountain has no say in what kind of weather comes its way. Just observes, calm and steady. The weather is our thoughts. The mountain is that deepest place within each one of us, vast and silent and sacred.
What are humans? We think we’re the weather, but we’re really the mountain.
I once helped an elderly couple in the ICU. He was dying, a vet, who married his Korean sweetheart from the war. She didn’t speak much. But she told me he’d like a prayer as he was dying, which was imminent. I read Psalm 23. I will not fear even though I walk through the valley, God is with me. What should I fear? I prayed and blessed him and her.
I wish I had read 121. I look to the hills, I look to the mountain. Where does my help come from? From the God who is always with me and always in that mountain and every other mountain, in every valley, in every grove. I didn’t read that, but I wish I had. For, after he died, she cried out: He is gone to the mountain. He has gone to the mountain. I sat there, listening. She looked at me and said: that’s what we say in our family when someone dies: he’s gone to the mountain.
Nina asked me: What even are humans?
We are the ones, like everything else, that will one day go to the mountain.
For now, there is the simple call: Rouse yourself. Rouse yourself. Rise up. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, writes the prophet Isaiah.
Who are we, we humans? The ones that can rouse ourselves and rise up. We have not yet gone to that mountain that the Korean woman taught me about, the final resting place. So in the meantime, we might as well give up being the weather and be more like the mountain that we already are. We might as well rouse ourselves and announce peace and bring good news, the good news that we are loved and so is everyone else, and that we belong and so does everyone else.
Look upon the hills. Look upon the mountain. Walk on it, announcing peace and love. All of that we can do as we rise up, as we rouse ourselves. But more than that, be the mountain, be that calm steady liberating healing loving gaze that comes from a place of vast stillness and silence and where the I and the divine merge into one. Cause that is really, finally, what we humans are.
Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Rise up! Isaiah 51