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Mountains, fortresses, and community

North Cascade Mountains

A hike in the mountains brought the Rev. John Hice in touch with nature’s beauty and the bounty of God’s great love.

Superintendent, East Winds District

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.[i]

The bus dropped me at the trailhead. I was alone and about to begin a climb about which I’d dreamed since I thumbed through The National Geographic article on the North Cascade Range (mostly looking at the pictures). I stepped off the bus and raised my eyes upward. Above the cover of dense spruce stood the imposing, ragged, blue-white summit of Mt. McGregor. I stepped onto the trail and into Heaven…

Until I reached the bulletin board with its posting of conditions and regulations and one sign warning:  You are entering cougar country. I took pause. Diesel engine grunts and the pops of bus tires spitting road stones faded into the distance. What should I do? Abandon the journey – go back to my little cabin at the ranch and go back to my reading where, earlier, I had left-off? Or press onward and upward along the trail?

I chose the latter, finding a dead branch and peeling bark and fashioning a walking stick that proved useful for keeping balance and stability in higher elevations where footing was less certain. It could aid in fending-off an animal if I encountered one. So, on I climbed, passing cascades of crystal water and dewy webs draping the cool underbrush. Onward, up the trail the trees thinned before the view of peeks of snow-crested mountains dancing along every horizon. I walked on snow fields while every step kept cadence with natural prayer as I ascended to the uppermost reaches of the McGregor summit. There, I ate my lunch and watched a column of smoke from the Domkey Lake Fire rise to form a thunderhead which, in turn, sparked another blaze.

God was everywhere. Song burst from my soul: When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly through the trees; and when I look from mountain grandeur and feel the gentle breeze then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee: How great thou art![ii] 

And then I descended on the long trail, stepping onto the road in time for the bus to take me to dinner. I had been kept safe, though there may have been an unseen cougar stalking me…that never pounced.

Our world is fraught with perils. Need the list of dangers posed against people or nations be written? Our congregations can feel besieged by shifts in population and a changing world. And it turns out that it’s not just the church down the road that’s attracting all the young families that threaten; it’s changing cultural values, children exported for want of employment, the clash of differing theologies and biblical understandings with their opposing agendas, sky-rocketing health care costs…cougars might be lurking along our trails.

And we could hole up in our cabins. We could build our fortresses and do the best we can to hold-on, fend-off, and hold-out; but for what purpose? And if we do hole up, we might just miss a world of God’s grace packed in every sight and every encounter we’d have along the trail. Jesus said, Whoever tries to preserve their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will preserve it.[iii]

We can stay in our fortresses or we can find and build community. Exposed to the dangers, we can trust God, who made heaven and earth – venture new ways of ministry, engage people both like and not like ourselves, live with people who have different opinions and still love God like we do, break out of the walls to practice God’s grace in the world…and truly live. If we believe our help comes from God we can abandon our fortresses, take to the trails, and walk with each other to build blessed community.

The Lord will protect you on your journeys—whether going or coming—from now until forever from now.[iv]

[i] Psalm 121:1-3. Common English Bible (CEB) Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

[ii] “How Great Thou Art,” The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House ©1989. p 77.

[iii] Luke 17:33. Op cit. Common English Bible.

[iv] Psalm 121:8. Op cit. Common English Bible

Last Updated on October 31, 2023

The Michigan Conference