The mountain commands attention – for miles around. Mount Monadnock is the signature peak in southern New Hampshire. Its craggy top is a magnet for photographers and hikers (for years I was told that it was the second most climbed mountain the world, after Mt. Fuji). Early one morning this past week I climbed the mountain, going up a route that I had taken many times previously, the trailhead being just a quarter mile from my house.
But this ascent was different. For starters, I got a bit lost in the early morning light. I began on the white arrow trail, and somehow ended up on one that featured yellow dots. The combination of sky, sun, rock and foliage was beyond beautiful. But there was something else. Most of the Monadnock region regards the mountain as a cherished icon. It is depicted on innumerable paintings, photographs, logos and teeshirts. Property values can be determined by whether one has an iconic view of its peak and its breadth.
On this particular Tuesday morning I was on the icon. Actually, I was fully in it. And the icon received me. Yes, it was hard work navigating the uneven steep path. At one point I fell – very slowly, as if the mountain trying to make sure I wouldn’t get hurt. (I didn’t)
I spend considerable time praying before traditional icons, which depict figures and events that are remembered for their holiness. I learned, years ago, that one is invited to look into the icon to see – or experience, the presence of God. More recently, I learned that in pondering the icon, we can imagine that the presence of God is looking back – through the icon, at us.
For me, Mount Monadnock is an extraordinary manifestation of God’s presence, an earthly icon. On that morning I felt creation looking back at me. Literally holding me up. As it did so, I realized that God’s creation provides us with all that we need. Food, water, minerals, resources, rain and snow. All that we need. Creation presents a remarkable demonstration of hospitality, which doesn’t quit.
We don’t return that hospitality very well. When God created humankind, according to the account in the book of Genesis, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28) Ever since those words were recorded, much of humankind has insisted that God’s directive has given us license to regard the earth as if it were a terrestrial bank that we could continually draw from, without needing to put up much, if any, collateral in return. For centuries, much of the Western world has treated the earth as if it were an indentured servant.
Some may argue that the earth is rebelling at its mistreatment. It turns out that it has no choice. As the ozone layer continues to be invaded, as we go on extracting oil and gas from under the ground, as we use the ocean as a global “sea-fill”, the earth and its atmosphere seek to rebalance, and it has no option but to release increasingly frequent violent storms which produce more devastating floods; or as parts of the landscape get dryer and hotter, wildfires consume more houses, businesses and lives.
There are those who say that humanity will not survive the ongoing crescendo of climate change. That may be. Humanity may not survive. But the earth will. It may take a long time to heal, but its intent (and I believe creation has an intent) is to continue to offer hospitality.
There are a host of factors that could reverse the tragic trajectory we are on, that are often referred to, and which we acknowledge but may not fully understand, given they are often technical. Reducing our carbon footprint, staying within a global 1.5 degrees centigrade rise, employing renewable energy sources. They are not just important. They are critical.
But another ingredient, that may be just as critical, is to learn to see the earth and its atmosphere not as resources to be exploited or taken for granted – but as our partners in creation who offer extraordinary hospitality, no matter how we treat it. Partners who give us all that we need. Partners who hold us up. An icon of creation