On a recent flight to San Francisco I enjoyed an amazing view. Standing alone in all its glory was Mount Shasta, the highest peak in the Cascades. The clear skies and bright morning sun offered a beautiful backdrop for the 14,000 foot peaks still covered in snow.
Jetting through the sky at 480 mph, I was grateful my random seat assignment had placed me within view. I pressed my nose against the glass to take it all in.
Staring out the window at this scenic wonder, I was struck by the fact that although the mountain peaks were closer to the sun, they were blanketed with snow. Of course, I know intellectually the air is colder at higher altitudes due to lower pressure, so it wasn’t the science that interested me. It was the metaphor. Intrigued, I spent the rest of my flight engaged in high altitude contemplation.
I thought about the tendency we have to want to climb to great spiritual heights to find purpose and meaning in life. We think “if only I could reach the heavens. If only I could touch the stars. If only I could see the face of God.”
We fool ourselves into thinking the mass of humanity is what has messed us up. We believe the answer lies in retreating from civilization and sequestering ourselves on some mountain top where we’ll be able to heal enough to figure out who we are and why we are here.
To be sure, there is value in spending time alone in nature, and time alone with oneself. Yet, if we stay away from people too long, we will cease to feel connected to them. We will cease to love them. We will cease to care.
We will be so far removed from all the hearts beating in the valley below that our own heart will grow cold. Just like a snowy mountain peak, we might look appealing from a distance. Yet, when people get close enough, they will find a harsh climate that is anything but inviting.
Seeing Mount Shasta in all its splendor reminded me it is impossible to find purpose and meaning in life apart from community. Healing, too, occurs most often as the result of relationship. Even the face of God, which we seek thinking it will make us whole, is not found in the sky. It is found by seeing the Creator’s image reflected in every human face.
As an introvert who is more apt to choose solitude over connection, I needed this reminder. I needed it to remind myself that a true spiritual journey is dependent not on living as an independent separatist, but on sustaining relationship.
The mountain taught me this. It taught me the sun in the heavens may provide the energy necessary to sustain life on Earth, but it is the warmth of the people around me that will keep the bitter winter away from my soul.