Sarah’s soaring intro to Mountain Sunday, for the last of three services in our Creation Justice season. Enjoy:
Essay about Mountains — by Sarah Swift –9/23/18
At the August meeting of the creation justice team we had a lot to cover — September is Creation Justice month ….- cleaning beaches and highways and launching our community wide book read.
There was a smaller item on the agenda – we were asked to raise our hand if we were willing to do a reading on either Planet Earth, the Skies, or the Mountains. I raised my hand – and was assigned Mountains. I had expected that when the time came I would be handed something to read. I was wrong about the ‘hand me something to read part.’
Before I start talking about mountains, let me first say that mountains have not been a significant part of my life. Raised in very flat central Michigan, the first “mountain” I ascended was Sugarloaf, as in that little bump of a hill that was a ski “mountain” — for a brief while.
In my twenties, living in Boston I was introduced to the “real mountains.” One fall day I climbed my way to the top of Mt. Washington, the largest mountain east of the Mississippi. Beginning in autumn forests and passing through a minor snowstorm to reach the summit. It was beautiful and exhilarating and breathtaking – literally. This was the beginning and end of my exploration of mountains.
The Creation Justice committee is focused on the environmental issues that surround and impact us. We respond by becoming educated and then proactive with regard to that we can protect, recover, improve and sustain. Water, air, animals, nature — things that are integral to nature and our lives.
The question then is how do mountains fit within the realm of Creation Justice?
A very long time ago Mountains began rising up from the center of the earth. The oldest mountain range on the planet, the Barberton Greenstone Belt is in south Africa and is 3.6 billion years old. NIcknamed “The Genesis of Life,” the geological components of these mountains provided information to geologists that allowed the scientists to estimate the ages and origins of all other mountains in the world.
On a human and more personal level, we describe mountains as majestic, magnificent, peaceful and powerful. They are described as: awe-inspiring, grande, godly, imposing, beckoning, inspirational, dangerous, unpredictable.
We are drawn to their vistas and views. We see them as a backdrop that will never change. And yet we also know they can launch into motion without warning — an earthquake, an erupting volcano, a severe weather event: all have triggered instant chaos, destruction and death.
In religious and spiritual realms mountains have always had meaning: – either as gods, or tools of gods, or as the settings for the greatest stories — of conflicts, revelations, sacrifices, inspirations and miracles.
So is there any threat from mankind to mountains that are, in human terms, eternal? Yes — the most significant threat is from mining. Strip mining in particular – which is happening in 24 states currently with no sign of stopping. High value minerals, metals and fossil fuels can only be extracted by mining. If a mountain either contains or sits upon one of these compounds then they are a target for devastation.
Strip mining is desecrating mountains in the southern Appalachians – only 9 hours from here. Mountaintops are being stripped bare of everything green and living to extract coal. More than 470 mountaintops have already been sheared off — leaving behind debris including trees and coal dust that are contaminating rivers and streams. This particular mountain range is 1.2 billion years old. Man dates back only 200 thousand years, and in a fraction of that time found a way to exploit these mountains.
But there is hope for the mountains. In a world where power is the end-game for countries, corporations, political leaders and even single individuals, the power of the mountains are still greater. They rise and fall and shift and settle, and may even sink beneath the oceans but they do not disappear. They are from the earth and of the earth and as long as there is earth there will be mountains.
I will end with a writing that underscores how mountains sustain themselves —
This is a passage written by John Muir- mountain man, journalist, scientist, explorer. He was the force behind the bill to set aside Yosemite as a national park – inspiring the later formation of the national park system. He was also the founder of the Sierra club, an environmental and political force still very active today.
In March of 1872, Muir was camping in valley in Yosemite near a mountain wall he had been studying for months. At 2:00 am he was was awakened by an earthquake. The earth turned to jelly, the mountain roared and then a massive slice of the mountain wall he had been researching collapsed into the valley. When it all finally stopped and grew quiet he wrote this:
“Nature, usually so deliberate in her operations, then created a new set of features simply by giving the mountains a shake – changing not only the high peaks and cliffs, but the streams.
As soon as the rock avalanches fell the streams began to sing new songs; for in many places thousands of boulders were hurled into their channels roughening and half damaging them, compelling the waters to surge and roar in rapids that changed to meadows, through which the streams are now silently meandering…Thus rough places were made smooth, and smooth places rough. But on the whole, by what at first seemed pure confusion and ruin, the landscapes were enriched…..In this work of beauty every boulder is prepared and measured and put in its place more thoughtfully than are the stones of temples.”
Muir went on to conclude that this was a “Fine lesson; and all of Nature‘s wildness tells the same story – the shocks and outbursts of earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, roaring, thundering waves and floods, the silent uprush of sap in plants, storms of every sort – each and all are the orderly beauty-making love-beats of Nature’s heart.