This week I’ll be leading a retreat in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Nestled in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, the retreat center (called Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center) is a lovely place for a retreat. (Check out their website: catholicretreat.org.) The place was the dream of Fr. William Murphy, a Detroit business man who became a priest at age 80! (His story proves you’re never too old to hear a life-altering call from God!) Fr. Murphy converted a hotel into Living Waters retreat center hoping it would become a place for people to pray and “drink in the beauty of the mountains.”
What is it about mountains that attract so many people? In my book, When the Rain Speaks, I have a chapter on mountains. In it I give a few interesting facts about mountains. Mountains cover 24% of the earth’s surface and play a critical role in supporting life on the planet. More than half the world’s population depend on mountains for their water.
The highest mountains are the Himalayas where the average mountain rises over 3 miles above sea level. The Andes in South America are the next highest mountains with an average height of 2.5 miles. But the Andes are much younger than the Himalayas and are growing significantly taller each year. Eventually the Andes will be taller than the Himalayas.
In ancient times mountains were associated with divinity. The Greeks, for example, believed Zeus and his divine cohorts resided on Mt. Olympus. In many religions, mountain tops were the place to encounter God. Moses trekked up Mt. Sinai to converse with God. Jesus was fond of mountains too. He frequently went into the mountains to pray. Being up high and viewing a vast panorama can take our break away. The sheer height and breadth of mountains have a way of humbling us lowly human beings. Being speechless and feeling lowly are both good experiences for the soul.
Poets like Dante and John of the Cross saw mountains as images of the spiritual journey. They and other mystics compared the path to God to climbing a mountain.
So this week I will be in the mountains. I hope to see some wild life while I’m there. Last time I gave a retreat in Maggie Valley, I was privileged to see some elk. (They were re-introduced into the area by park authorities a few years back.) I was delighted to meet a male elk with his “wife” and child—on two different occasions. Both times we got close enough to read the number on his ear tag: 67. (I remember the number because it was the number I was given in the novitiate!)
In July I led a retreat beside the ocean at Cape May, NJ. Many of you supported that retreat with your prayers. Thank you! Now I am asking for your prayers again for this retreat in the mountains. In return, while in Maggie Valley, I promise to pray for all the readers of my blog—especially as I drink in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
What has been your experience of mountains? Do mountains speak to your spiritual life?