Tales from the Mountain
I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. ~Psalm 121:1-2 The Message
When I learned this Psalm, it became a reminder that the San Francisco Peaks of Northern Arizona (Or just “The Peaks” to Arizonans) are not my source of strength. For many of the native peoples of Arizona, particularly, Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, and Apache, the mountain is the source or connection to the spirits and ancestors. They see them as the source of spiritual strength.
Named after St. Francis by Franciscan monks at a mission on the Hopi reservation, there are actually six peaks remaining from a mountain that once stood around 16,000 feet high; Doyle, Rees, Abineau, Freemont, Agassiz, and then Humphreys tops out at 12,633 feet, the highest point in Arizona.
One can take the ski lift in the summer and hop off at 11,500’ with still another 1,233’ climb to reach the top, or you can hike from the base at around 9,000’. The first climb I did was from Doyle saddle and up to the top. I might have been in a bit better shape then; it didn’t seem as much of a hurdle as it does today. I’ve been on peaks in Colorado and as dramatic as that is, there is nothing to compare when you are at the highest point as far as you can see in 360 degrees. The curvature of the earth is visible in this wondrous panorama; from the Grand Canyon to the Painted Desert, Oak Creek and the hills of the Mogollion Rim, the colors, canyons, valleys, and hills never seem to end.
Sitting on a rock up there, I remember feeling very small. Now, I’ve experienced a few moments in life where I felt pretty big. I was on top of things, important – or so I thought. Nearly always, well, okay – every time, I thought I was important and self-important – a ‘legend in my own time’ – I soon discovered the self-delusion and reality reasserted itself once more. These re-orienting moments in life are spots where growth was much more pronounced afterwards and I’m thankful for the growth, the humbling experience, not so much.
Like the Psalm writer, I occasionally think I can do it on my own. This is also where we differ with the religions of others like the native peoples of Northern Arizona because anything I do or become is purely the result of relying on God’s gifts in and through my life. But that’s also when I am encouraged. When I am in the valleys of life, the mountain seems exceptionally big but from on top, His creation stretches out before me. He did this! He made this! He made you and me, wonderfully knit in our mother’s womb.
Mountains and mountain top experiences are powerful but our real strength doesn’t come from our accomplishments or from positions of power no, our strength, true strength to get through life, to be blessed in life, and to be a blessing comes from God and remembering that our focus is on God not ourselves. Where will you be a blessing today?