Artwork by Jo C
“So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” […] The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.” —
Exodus 34:4-5; 27-32
Tumbling head over heels, over and over, sending white flurries in every direction. She loses one ski, then another. Finally, she comes to rest in the snow, supine, covered in powder, laughing. Deep, full, belly laughs.
That’s one way to get down!
I swoop by and pick up one of her skis to return it. Gingerly slipping down large moguls, I reach the bottom of the hill and look back up. My breath catches as I realize the distance she covered during the fall. It was such a steep slope that she dropped several storeys in the powder. I’m glad she’s unhurt. Just laughing, face shining. This’ll make for a good story later.
You gotta do it somehow, right?
One minute ago we were on the top of the world. We took pictures of the view. The wind was sharp, the air was clear for miles around. Snow-covered ranges, dark forests giving way to dusty gray desert on the horizon. One brilliant sapphire lake. It was spectacular. It was freezing cold. It was a space that, to be honest, not everyone can occupy. Not everyone can experience this thrill, or take in these sights. Not everyone has the skill or ability, once the peak is reached, to ski back down.
My old religion professor taught me that sacred spaces are, at their most basic, defined by barriers and taboo. The ordinary things of the world cannot enter them. We speak of them rarely and reverently. Access is limited.
My old youth pastor taught me about mountaintop experiences. Moses ascended a literal mountain. He journeyed to receive the Ten Commandments — twice. He reached the peak and promptly disappeared into a dense and dazzling fog. When he reappeared, he was so changed by the presence of God that his face shone; some interpretations depict literal beams of light emanating from his head like a rising sun. My pastor told us to seek our metaphorical mountaintops to experience God. But, crucially, we had to remember always to come back down.
The mountaintop can be a sacred space if you so choose. But, sacred or not, it is not a place to stay. On the peak, you are shelterless. There is no food, no fire, no feeling in your extremities, because, did I mention, it’s freezing cold? All you have to sustain you is the presence of God. But even God wants you to descend. You have some news to tell the world.
You gotta get down!
So return to your people; return to the land of the ordinary. Many did not have the privilege of going where you went and seeing what you saw. Your purpose is to tell them. You have stories upon stories to tell.
Here is one more story: Moses ascended Sinai and returned with the blueprint for a permanent sacred space. The Tabernacle. It had walled-in courts and a lavish curtain that separated the holiest inner sanctum from the world outside. Generations later, Jesus Christ ascended Golgotha. It was a hill set apart for executions. Taboo. A sacred space, of sorts, where God abandoned Jesus to die. But when he gave up his last breath, that beautiful temple curtain was torn in two. That barrier between the sacred and the profane was destroyed.
And Jesus did return from his mountaintop.
Do you seek mountaintop experiences? Why?
Have you ever had a deeply spiritual experience of any sort, and then felt like you just “fell off” once it was over? I can relate. What does a graceful, meaningful descent look like?
Where are the sacred/taboo spaces in your life that you feel ready to ascend to?