Getting closer to God on the mountain tops
Suzanne Cooke has been climbing hills where she now lives in Northumberland, and describes how those experiences help her listen to God.
Living in a relatively remote part of England has its pluses and its minuses. Driving 30 minutes to get to a supermarket is sometimes a pain - we certainly use a lot a petrol some weeks. However, during lockdown, being able to walk out of the door and be on the hills within 10 or 15 minutes has been an incredible blessing. I have spoken to many, many people who are so aware of how very fortunate we are – especially when the sun is shining. We live in a beautiful part of the world and I cannot imagine what it must be like, how hard it must be at this time, to live in a high-rise apartment.
Earlier this week, my husband Adrian marched me to the top of The Cheviot, which although called a ‘hill’ around here, is in fact a small mountain. Although I walk up some of our smaller hills, Humbleton, Hedgehope, Yeavering Bell, I have to admit that in the three years we have lived here I’ve only made it half way up The Cheviot and not to the top, the summit. Hill walking seems in many ways to be a strange business – standing at the bottom of a (very!) large hill you are acutely aware that you are in for at least 40 minutes of lung bursting, muscle searing discomfort! I always make the approach to the bottom of the hill with a sense of trepidation and, frankly, have to stop myself whingeing about the pain that lies ahead. My husband is a patient and good-humoured walking companion!
Throughout the bible and the Christian tradition there are lots of occasions when mountains and hills are the setting for revelatory spiritual encounters and messages. On the face of it, maybe the simple reality of being higher up helps people to feel closer to God and therefore more able or likely to experience or sense the Divine presence in their lives. But as I dragged myself up quite a big hill this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the amount of effort it takes to physically get up a hill or mountain. And once at the top, the sheer sense of achievement and quite honestly relief at having got there! I wondered what that could tell me about a life of Christian discipleship.
Clearly, as I have said, I am so very fortunate to be a person who is physically and geographically able to climb hills at this particular moment in history. But that mountain-top experience, the clarity it brings and the frame of reference it offers is not only achieved when at the top of a big hill. Many of us will have places we can go, be they in the quiet of our own homes, a park, a favourite walk, or peaceful place that offer that same sense of uncluttered clarity.
Because I believe that is the opportunity, the fascination or appeal, of the mountain-top experience – in an extreme way it clears our mind and stops us thinking about our busy lives. You could say that it affords us radical perspective. A perspective that unclutters the mind and leaves us unhindered, able to hear God’s voice, able to sense Divine presence. In turn affording us a state of mind that provides an objectivity that reveals or uncovers what we might be asked or called to be.
Change is on the horizon, however unending this strange dystopic moment might seem, it will not go on for ever and it is likely that a ‘new normal’ will follow. As Christians we often talk about seeking to hear God’s voice in our lives. But having this time to pause, to cast off the many distractions of modern life, is a gift that this time of lockdown has given to many of us.
Maybe it is a gift that could allow us to sense God’s voice in our lives and hear it in our world. We just need to seek out and find those ways that make that voice easier to hear. Happy listening everyone!
The pictures of Wooler and the Cheviot Hills (top) and of Auchope Cairn, also in the Cheviot Hills, are courtesy of Suzanne Cooke.
Rev Suzanne Cooke is the vicar of four rural churches, sitting at the foot of the Cheviot Hills in the far north of Northumberland. Her call to ministry came whilst living with her family in North Norfolk and she is proud to have begun her ordained life in the Norwich Diocese.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive and good-natured debate between website users.