Locke Mountain is a rocky ridge five miles to the south of Hollidaysburg Pennsylvania. I remember a time when I climbed Locke Mountain with the intent of discovering God in creation. I remember the joy of feeling my heart beat, feeling blood course through my veins as I hiked up the trail; I remember the cool, pure taste of the fresh mountain air upon reaching the summit. I remember the joy of feeling the solid rocks beneath my feet that I imagined expanding deep into the heart of that great mountain like giant floating icebergs whose very tip is all that is discernible to the senses.
I remember the shape and feel of the bark of an ancient chestnut oak tree whose mangled misshapen trunk must have been molded by the harsh wind and snow of the winter; but now it was late spring, the sky as blue as sapphire and clear as the open sea. I remember the sights and sounds of all of the life surrounding me on that mountain top; a red-tailed hawk riding the current of a gentle breeze, a red squirrel foraging in a pine tree, a timber rattlesnake basking on one of the nearby flat rocks, a black-throated-green warbler announcing its presence. I remember the taste of freshly picked hemlock and wintergreen and the sweet smell of sassafras.
I remember the joy of losing myself in this wonderful experience of discovery on Locke Mountain. I certainly enjoyed this experience of solitude and oneness with the mountain, but I did not feel God’s presence during this particular mountain retreat. I didn't feel as though I had attained any more knowledge and understanding of God than I had since rolling out of bed.
We have all had those moments right? When we intentionally set aside time to grow in our faith through a discovery of God. We experience pure joy in our experiences of prayer, of Sunday morning worship, or of a day or weekend retreat. We have amazing experiences, but feel as though we have not made any progress in our spiritual lives; we have not discovered God. So we question the validity of the experience, we question its meaning. We even question if there was any deeper meaning at all beyond the surface experience of our sensory perceptions, because a lack of experiencing God’s presence means a lack of any discovery of God means a day wasted… or does it?
Perhaps we miss the point of these experiences when we judge them based on categories of personal spiritual growth, and of our discovery of God (or lack thereof). In his book entitled New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes that “we become contemplatives when God discovers [God's self] in us.”(pg 39) If its true that God is on a journey of discovering God’s self in us, then it's okay when we have experiences of praying or of spending time in solitude feeling like we’ve gotten nothing out of it.
I wonder what God has to say about God’s discovery of God’s self in us? I wonder if it might go something like, “I remember centuries ago, the joy of taking on flesh to live with my creatures whom I love. I remember getting acquainted with the depths of their hearts; their love, their pain, their joy, their hope, and their suffering. I remember dying and rising for them so that I might live in their hearts forever. I remember the joy of discovering myself in each one of them in the most intimate ways throughout all of history. I remember the joy of discovering myself in Rich’s heart during his Locke Mountain retreat while he experienced such great joy in that wild space.”