I am counting the days now. 18 days until I fly off to Kathmandu, Nepal to join a group of crazy, enthusiastic and hopefully fit cyclists to make an attempt to reach Everest Base Camp on the Tibet side of the border. As I near the day my anticipation grows as well as a feeling of humility for what we are about to embark on.
Yesterday I preached a sermon on Psalm 121 with the title “I Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills” which was the original source of this short, but ambitious pilgrimage and writing project. In my preparation I did a little research on the spiritual significance of Mt. Everest to the people who live under her watchful eye. I discovered that the Tibetan name is Chomolungma which means Goddess Mother of the World. In Nepalese the name is Sagarmatha which is translated similarly as Goddess Mother of the Sky.
I suddenly gained a whole new appreciation for what we are about to embark on. I knew that I already felt a spiritual pull to climb this mountain on my bike, but the best that I could understand about my motivation was the deeply satisfying feeling of accomplishment that accompanies climbing what is within a few hundred feet of the highest “motorable road in the world.” (My original plan was to cycle to Khardung La Pass which reaches another 300 feet in altitude, but that trip was cancelled. Everest Base Camp was not a bad Plan B!).
But this week when I discovered that the local Tibetans and Nepalese called Mt. Everest a name that was associated with the “goddess mother” I was suddenly reminded that this is not just an athletic feat, but an invitation by another culture and by the Universe itself to cycle on sacred ground. Mt. Everest is not just a mountain, but the home of the gods and the object of religious and spiritual devotion.
Of course, I should have known that ahead of time. I used to use Long’s Peak in Colorado as the object of spontaneous meditations while growing up. Long’s Peak was as temperamental as a teenager entering puberty. One day she would be calm and serene. Another day she would be threatening and frighteningly dangerous. But every day was an opportunity to meditate on the personality of the Sacred and the mysterious seasons of Life.
All of this got me thinking about those things in our lives that pitch our minds, our hearts and our souls to something deeper, something more mysterious, something divinely beautiful. I am currently working my way through John O’Donohue’s book Beauty: Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity, and Hope. He has it broken down into very convenient two to four paragraph sections that make it ideal for my morning meditations.
This week he reminded me of the place that houses of worship have played in people’s lives for millenia. He wrote of these places as being “sanctuaries of absolute presence”. But he grieves that modern people walk and drive by these sanctuaries every day completely unaware of their “divine welcome.” He reminded me that at one time communities would raise money for years on end in order to erect a sanctuary in their town. It took years because a real sanctuary wasn’t just four walls with movable folding chairs and an all-purpose room that could function as worship space, fellowship hall, gym, and yoga studio. A real sanctuary took thought and intention to create a worshipful atmosphere that pitched the mind, the heart and the soul to that mysterious presence we often call God or the Sacred. High arched ceilings, stained glass windows, and entryways that caused even the most skeptical to feel that they were standing on holy ground as they entered.
I realized as I read O’Donohue’s reminder of the role that sanctuaries played in our communities at the same time that I was preparing to climb the bottom half of Mt. Everest that I experience a similar invitation in both–that is, the invitation to pitch my mind, my heart and my soul to the deeper mystery of Life.
Mountains are sanctuary for me. I can’t stare at a magnificently carved mountain without feeling that God Herself (remember Mt. Everest is the Goddess Mother!) is inviting me to dance with her. I can’t climb over the ridges and passes without feeling like the mountain is my lover. And I have the same experience in a worship space that is intricately and intentionally designed to draw out my soulful impulses. When the light is just right, the preaching is poetic, the music is heartfelt and the silences are loud that same feeling of awe and intimacy that I feel on with the mountain permeates my soul.
I write this as a reminder to myself and others that spiritual worship is not just the domain of the church and any old worship space. Nor is spiritual worship just the domain of the nature purist who is as religious about their Sunday hikes and kayaking adventures as the Sunday faithful who sit in the pews. I think spiritual worship is anything that has the ability to pitch our minds, our hearts and our souls to something deeper, something more mysterious, something divinely beautiful.
In eighteen days I will leave for the Goddess Mother of the World–Mt. Everest. I will miss four Sundays of preaching. But I don’t think I’ll miss a single day of worship. I’ll be worshiping with each pedal stroke.
I have a good life.