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Leonard: The mountains are calling (but not really)

4 min read
Leonard: The mountains are calling (but not really)

We’ve all seen John Muir’s quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go,” framed on restaurant and store walls around town, and you may even have it in your living room or on a T-shirt. Muir wrote that line in a letter to his sister from the Yosemite Valley on Sept. 3, 1873. He was an outdoor enthusiast, like many of us, and is considered one of the fathers of our national parks. 

Here’s an excerpt from his letter for you to see what kind of outdoorsman he was:

“I have just returned from the longest and hardest trip I have ever made in the mountains, having been gone over five weeks. I am weary, but resting fast; sleepy, but sleeping deep and fast; hungry, but eating much. For two weeks I explored the glaciers of the summits east of here, sleeping among the snowy mountains without blankets and with but little to eat on account of its being so inaccessible. After my icy experiences it seems strange to be down here in so warm and flowery a climate.” 

I truly cannot imagine the feelings he felt being alone, for over a month, hungry, somewhere in snowy mountains. That’s old-school tough right there.

I love his quote. For those of us who live here year-round or come a few weeks per year, we’ll never forget the sense of awe we get looking at the Gore Range while skiing Vail for the hundredth time. We feel incredibly blessed fishing these rivers, mountain biking in our backyard, or, well, plug in your favorite outdoor activity. Humans seem to come alive in this setting and we feel something spiritual while being here, like we’re close to God. Just spend one hour with a Texan on vacation and you’ll hear them repeat how amazing it is here “in God’s country” every few minutes. However, I believe there is a downside to this. Allow me to explain. 

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Another one of Muir’s famous quotes is, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God than be in church thinking about the mountains.” Having lived here for just over 18 years, I’ve heard so many people say something similar, that the mountains and rivers are their church. It’s definitely good to be thinking about God and feeling close to Him while in the mountains, but there’s more to it.  

Similar to an amazing sunset or sunrise, watching the tide roll in or out, witnessing the miracle of birth, or looking at the stars on a clear night, these experiences are spiritual moments — but they are meant to point us to the next step on our spiritual journey. These things are referred to as “general revelation.” 

In theology, general revelation (aka natural revelation) refers to God’s revelation “made to all men and women everywhere” discovered through natural means such as the observation of nature (the physical universe), philosophy and reasoning. In other words, the creation is meant to show mankind that there is a creator but we need to take another step to learn more about Him. While feeling close to God when outside is better than nothing, I like encouraging people to take a step from “general revelation” to “special revelation.” Special revelation is a theological term that refers to the belief that knowledge of God can be further discovered through means of the scriptures.

As we all know, mountains do not call you, they are inanimate objects. While I like Muir’s quote about the mountains, I believe a better saying is, “God is calling us to the mountains and we must go.” For when we are there we feel Him, talk with Him, and often hear from Him. 

People often come here to have that experience, to escape the real world (big cities), and to even “find themselves” while getting lost in creation. Years ago a study produced by Baylor University (my Alma Mater, Sic’em Bears) that was published in the journal, Sociology of Religion, found that good weather and beautiful scenery dramatically lower church worship service attendance.

“When a person hikes in a forest to connect with the sacred, she or he may not feel the need to affiliate with a religious organization because her or his spiritual demands are met.”  Better put, in my opinion, his or her spiritual demands are stirred but not really met. 

We are meant to move from general to special revelation. The most prolific writer of the New Testament, a Jewish religious leader from the first century named Paul, wrote something similar in a letter to a group of Jesus’ followers in Rome around the year 57 saying, “Ever since the world was created God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen through what has been made.”

I’ve spent the last 25 years studying the scriptures and working for various churches and ministries. If you’d be interested in having a conversation or asking questions that fall into the special revelation category, I’d love to buy you coffee, lunch or breakfast any day of the week but Sunday morning …because I might be in the mountains thinking about God.

Scott Leonard is the President of Ascend Vail. You can reach him at [email protected]

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