Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More Majestic than the Mountains

Glorious are you, more majestic than the everlasting mountains.
-Psalm 76:4
I was reflecting last night on Psalm 76, and it led me to wonder whether anyone has ever really been an animist in the primitive sense we imagine worshipping trees and wind and mountains and so on. The verse above from Psalm 76 really speaks to me. I know God in the way of which this verse speaks.

I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in western Maryland, and these mountains always had a special draw for me. They were home. When coming back from a trip to Baltimore, the cut at Sidling Hill always felt like the gateway to where I lived. Before that pass, I was away and the mountains were in front of me. After that pass, I was home and the mountains were all around me, surrounding me as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Then in my 20's I moved to Oregon, and I got a whole new picture of what is meant by "majestic mountains." If you've never lived in a city near a mountain like Mt. Hood, I'm not sure I can really convey what it's like. You'll be driving down the street like you would any day, and then you turn a corner and suddenly, as if it appeared out of nowhere, there is an 11,000 foot mountain right in front of you, dominating the landscape. And the beauty of this mountain is glorious. Pristine and pure, serene, unmoveable. It's easy to see how the early inhabitants of these lands could have personified the mountains. There's certainly something numinous about its all-seeing presence.

And here, at the numinous quality of nature, is where Psalm 76 meets the language of animism. It's been said that God is invisible, but it simply isn't true. I see God all the time. Often, I see God when I look at the sky. The sky is God, but only some days. Frequently, I see God in a lone tree in the middle of a field. The tree is God, but not always. And the mountains.... "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." (Ps. 121:1, KJV)

Obviously, I don't really think the sky or a tree or a mountain is God, but quite often when I look at them I see God. I know I am seeing God because I am seeing more than sky or tree or mountain. I am seeing God, who is more majestic than the everlasting mountains.


David said...

I know it has nothing to do with your post, but the picture of Mt. Hood reminds me of the three climbers who went missing last week. One was found dead in a snow cave and the other two are still missing.

I pray that God will comfort their families during such a trying time.

Brian said...


I think the alternative to animism is the concept of panentheism... not pantheism, but panENtheism, where creation is in God, even if God exceeds creation. John Polkinghorne has written that panentheism, while not a theological reality for THIS world, is the form of eschatological destiny for the world to come. (See Science and the Trinity and The God of Hope and the End of the World.

I think this approach is a step farther than the traditional Lutheran approach that would tell us we cannot know God from creation, but only the works of God's hands.


Andy said...


Your concern and prayer is quite welcome, and not entirely irrelevant. Here in Oregon, we get periodic reminders of the danger of the mountain, but the community (and sometimes national) concern and support is uplifting.

Andy said...


Coincidentally (or perhaps not) I've been having an e-mail discussion with a theology professor about panentheism the past couple of days.

I like Polkinghorne a lot, though I haven't read the works you reference.