My son has just returned from a two week mission trip to Spain with his college choir. As you might imagine, he has been pretty tired since he returned, so I have not gotten a lot of detail, but he was eager - jet lag or no - to share a particular experience as soon as he got home. Seems that a subset of the choir nicknamed the "Adventure Club" found a mountain to climb. Hiking a cliff above Laguna Negra, they found another cliff and scaled it. Suddenly, in Trey's words, they were surrounded "by more of God's glory than I have ever seen before." As they stood there, surrounded by good friends who are "some of the best singers in the world," the hymns poured forth. Their version of BRH's anthem "I Am" echoed names of Christ through the canyons below. Trey has declared it a moment he will never forget.
I am reminded of the line of the kindly alien Griff in "Men in Black 3" - "This is my favorite moment of human history of all time."
That Trey's mountaintop experience actually happened on a mountaintop is neither unusual nor coincidental. Mine was in Colorado. My mother's was in the Alps. There must be something about height and clarity and thin air and the people with whom we find ourselves when we take these trips.
Mountaintop experiences get a bad rap. We tend to think of them as (1) temporary and (2) emotional. Well, they are both, but so what? Peter wanted to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration, and Jesus made him come down; so we tend to decide that being on the mountain is somehow bad or unworthy of followers of Christ. I disagree. After all, Peter would never have been on a mountaintop in the first place if Jesus had not led him up there.
It is those temporary, singular experiences that often sustain us. We do not have to stay on the mountain to remember. Trey will never forget how the harmony of those young voices singing "I Am" sounded through the crispness of that European springtime. There will be many more temporary experiences, individual times when God shows up, when the face of God is within reach and the voice of God is unmistakably plain. The hymn writer called them "foretastes of glory divine." Modern authors tend to call them "Aha" moments. They are moments when we touch heaven.
Yesterday was Pentecost, the day we remember a singular, temporary experience when a room was alive with tongues of fire and with (as my pastor so brilliantly put it yesterday) the translation of God into everyone's own language. The apostles did not have daily returns of the mighty wind, yet that one experience was sufficient to start what we now know as the church.
My mother saw the Matterhorn appear through the clouds over fifty years ago. For her, the song was not "I Am" but rather "How Great Thou Art." Different time. Same God. Different place. Same message. Different song. Same power.
Of course, a faith built on emotion is doomed to fail. If that is all you've got, you are in trouble. If, however, that is not all you've got, then your emotional experiences with the Almighty Creator are of great benefit. God speaks to those whose faith is centered on a real relationship with Him through our emotions as surely as through our senses and our experiences. Think of your scripture - the wonder of Sarah, the despair of Elijah, the happiness of Zacchaeus, the eroticism of Solomon, the anxiety of Christ in the garden and on the cross, the "high" of John on Patmos. These emotional moments must be tested, but they are real. How we "feel" is not the basis of anything, but when we have a real basis, God can touch us and make us "feel" something that verifies so much.
Yesterday, I sat and listened to our youth sing a song of great emotional import to them as they honored their graduating seniors. That moment, for those of them who know Christ and love each other, was real. The tears of joy and fear of the dark and wonderment as they examine these soon-to-be-stretched relationships mixed with memories of feelings from their youth group years. Trey, no longer in the youth group, saw and heard the same thing I did, and he remembered how he had felt just last year when he had been one of those graduating seniors. What he knows now that he did not know a year ago is that there is a bigger mountain waiting, that those youth group feelings are preparatory, not final.
Of course, we have to follow Jesus down the mountain. The towns and the marketplaces are where we walk with Him most of the time. And there are moments, yea, when we walk through the valley of the shadow, and there He carries us.
But remember, if you hear Him calling you down the mountain, you probably got there because He led you up in the first place.