Moving, Mountains, and High Places

Three weeks after moving farther south in New England, from a land of lobsters and lighthouses to a region of reservoirs and shopping centers, I’m feeling the ground steady under me again. I’m beginning to realize why some people rarely move: the paperwork, phone calls, and sheer mass of identification you need is significant. But again, the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.

In some ways, in moving south, I feel like Jill in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair when she leaves the high mountain to begin her quest in Narnia. Aslan warns her that the air on the mountain is clear, and her mind is clear; but the air in Narnia is thicker. He warns her to be careful to not let it confuse her mind.

But she had to go, and so did I. Northern New England, with its green fields and farms, sprawling forests, mountains and blue lakes, feels like an escape, but a lonely one. Southern New England with its little villages, winding rivers, neighborhoods of colonial mansions or cottages is fertile with opportunities for work and community.

I miss the north, and I wish I was closer to the mountains. But I’ve found a different kind of summit as I’ve reinvested in morning quiet times:

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it… (Isaiah 2:2, ESV)

For ten years, classes, homework, and commuting filled up my mornings. I knew that cursory readings or listening to Scripture on my ESV podcast wasn’t as rich as actual study: mining the treasures of the text through notes, questions, outlining, and researching. In this new chapter of life, I’ve started using the extra minutes in my morning to read through Isaiah. 

Isaiah is a symphony of contrasts: blood and wine, burned rubble and blooming vineyards, mountains and valleys, rivers and fires. God proclaims judgement on the wicked, and then promises redemption and blessings on the righteousness. The paradox of His justice and grace is terrifyingly, beautifully clear.

In Isaiah 2, the prophet proclaims peace, prosperity, abundance, and joy on the mountain of the LORD when people are in loving obedience to Him. When God is lifted high, the land is fruitful.

But in Isaiah’s time, the Lord is not lifted high by the people of Jerusalem and Judah; instead, the people raise themselves up. 

The haughty looks of man shall be brought low,
and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled,
and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
For the LORD of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low…” (Isaiah 2:11-12)

This past Sunday, the worship leader at a church I visited said something I’ve never heard before. “You know in Psalm 121 when the psalmist says ‘I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come. My help comes from the LORD’?” he said. “So in Palestine, when you lifted your eyes up to the hills, you would see altars to false gods. The psalmist is denying those false gods and choosing to trust in the true God.” 

Sacrifices in the high places and under every green tree…I remembered warnings from Numbers, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, and on through the Old Testament. Mountaintops: lonely heights where Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and others worshiped the true God, but also high places where people sacrificed to false gods.

I miss the north, and I wish I was closer to the mountains. But these passages remind me that the summit I really long for is that joyful obedience of a right relationship with God, not the mountains of New England, and not the idols I raise for myself. 

So now in these green lowlands, among the woods tangled in bittersweet vines and golf courses that hum with crickets each morning, I pursue purpose and community. And I long for His mountain.