Wild and high places are more valuable to us than you might think. The absence of crowds takes many decisions away from us: when to speak and when stay silent. It takes away much visual stimulus too: no subconscious reading of adverts. We don’t spend our time judging other people: is he a danger? Is she attractive? Being high and wild liberates our minds to reflect.
So, what do you do up there all day? People ask those of us who spend time remote from civilization. After all, it is cold, wet, misty, windy; no shops, no cafés; and it is really hard work getting up there. Matthew records (14:22) “Jesus climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray; he stayed there alone, late into the night.” How did Matthew, writing long after the death of Jesus, know what Jesus was doing up there, on his own? I know. Every mountain walker knows.
We who pray, and talk about prayer, are pretty confused about what it can be. Just the start of a prayer poses unanswerable questions. “Almighty God”, is a common form of address. Almighty? Could God prevent famines and trigger-happy missile launchers killing air passengers six miles high? I would if I could. Can God cure those for whom we pray? Why does anyone die then? What does prayer do anyway? So many answers that we have given in the past clearly fail to convince most people.
Jesus had no time to think when he was surrounded by crowds, even worse when he was surrounded by disciples. Was he making best use of his limited time on Earth? Was he right to court condemnation from the religious establishment? Was he right to be criticising the scriptures he had learned as a boy? Was his painful death inevitable? The Gospels record many times that he retired from the crowds to “pray”. He was, after all, living an important life that no-one else understood; lots of uncertainty, lots of decisions, lots of opportunity to go wrong. Sound familiar?
Those entering professions learn about the place of reflection in professional improvement. Reflection is a process of revealing to your highest ethical self just what a jerk you have been, by re-living incidents that have caused pain or regret. If we regard our highest selves as the Spirit of God within us, there is little to divide this activity from the most valued parts of conventional prayer in church.
Some of us can’t or won’t climb mountains. Of course, those who won’t will one day find that they can’t when it is too late to do anything about it. There are other quiet places. Churches are often quiet; walking instead of driving is fairly quiet; the early morning is often quiet; everyone can find their own quiet place. Reflect and Improve; your life is short but terribly important; no-one else can understand it; lots of uncertainty; pray!
Mervyn posts a reflection each week. Please join in; he welcomes comments.