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F. Douglas Kneibert muses about religious experiences in high places.
BY F. Douglas Kneibert
If you want
to get close to God, you can’t beat the mountains.What is it about mountains
that seem to connect us with the divine? For one thing, they reach to the
heavens. We admire their rugged beauty and massive size, but there is also an
air of mystery and fear associated with them.
In the Bible, we read about some
very important events that happened on mountains. One occurred as Moses led the
children of Israel into the wilderness from their Egyptian captivity. The New
American Bible subtitles one part “The Great Theophany” — an appearance of God
in his glory.
God pulled out all the stops at
Mount Sinai, where he delivered the Ten Commandments. He descended in a dark
cloud, accompanied by fire, thunder, lightning, the shaking of the mountain and
loud blasts of the trumpet. According to Moses, this terrifying display was
designed to instill the fear of God in the hearts of his chosen people.
It evidently worked, for they begged
Moses to be their go-between with God and leave them out of it.
I was reminded of those passages
from Exodus as my wife and I traveled through Wyoming to Grand Teton National
Park. As geologists measure such things, the Teton Range is a mere child, being
only about nine million years old. Its craggy, sharp peaks remain relatively
untouched by the ravages of time and weather.
Should God ever want to repeat his
dramatic display at Sinai, the Tetons would have my vote as an appropriate
Evidently, I was not the only one to
be stirred by religious feelings amid such beauty and grandeur. The Chapel of
the Sacred Heart is found on Signal Mountain, nestled in a beautiful wooded
area of the park.
This Catholic chapel was built of
native logs in Grand Teton National Park in the 1930s. A Protestant chapel is located
elsewhere in the park.
Partial to Mountains
For Catholics, it’s all very
natural, of course. God reveals himself in various ways, most fully in his Son,
as he is made known in sacred Scripture and through sacred Tradition. But his
creation also testifies to his greatness. St. Paul had something to say about
that in his Letter to the Romans.
The apostle’s subject was man’s lack
of an excuse for his nonbelief. “For
what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to
them,” wrote St. Paul. “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes
of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in
what he has made” (Romans 1:19-20).
Likewise, the Psalmist sang praises
for God’s handiwork: “Great is the Lord and highly praised in the city of our
God: the holy mountain, fairest of heights, the joy of all the earth …” (Psalms
Grand Teton, which lords it over the
other mountains of the Teton Range, rises to an elevation of 13,770 feet. To behold
it and its sisters at fairly close range can be done most dramatically at the
Cathedral Group turnout, so named because the towering peaks of Grand Teton,
Teewinot and Mount Owen are reminiscent of the spires of a Gothic cathedral. At
this viewing site and others, you begin to get an inkling of why God was so
partial to mountains for demonstrating his power.
The prophet Elijah fled to Mount
Horeb (which is believed to be Sinai), the “mountain of the Lord,” to escape
the vengeful Queen Jezebel. There he experienced fire, a ferocious wind and
earthquake — but God was not in any of those things. When he did speak to
Elijah, it was a “tiny whispering sound.”
Scripture’s two most famous
“mountain men,” Moses and Elijah, spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
When Jesus went off to pray by himself, it was often on a mountain. When he
ascended into heaven, according to the Acts of the Apostles, it was from Mount
Creation Is ‘Good’
The Teton Range burst forth from the
Earth’s crust as a result of a series of earthquakes and glacier activity. One
can accept the scientific explanation of how mountains were formed and at the
same time know that God’s creative power was behind it all. As the Catechism of
the Catholic Church puts it, “The beauty of creation reflects the infinite
beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s
intellect and will” (No. 341).
My wife and I responded in just that
way as we beheld the various wonders of the park, which include wildlife such
as elk, moose and bear. Our rustic cabin at Signal Mountain Lodge overlooked
beautiful Jackson Lake, which was formed by a glacier, with the Teton Range,
still packed with patches of snow, rising majestically behind it. The mountain
opposite our cabin was Mount Moran, which, though not as high as Grand Teton,
nearly makes up for it with its massive girth.
It is a fundamental principle of
Catholic belief that creation was, and is, “good,” as God proclaimed it to be
in the Book of Genesis. Furthermore, God wants us to take pleasure in his
wonders, which reflect his glory, and work to preserve them.
But we should guard against an undue
love of nature, which in extreme cases can lead to its worship, a form of
As awe-inspiring as God’s creation
can be, it is insufficient in and of itself to lead us to the fullness of faith
in the One who is behind it all. For that, we need Jesus Christ and the Church
That’s what the Chapel of the Sacred
Heart is there for.
Douglas Kneibert writes
from Sedalia, Missouri.
Chapel of the
Teton Park Road
Jackson, WY 83001
Scroll down to Grand Teton.
Planning Your Visit
June through September, the Catholic chapel is located just off Teton Park
Road one-half mile north of Signal Mountain Lodge. Masses
are scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. Sundays. The chapel is