F. Douglas Kneibert muses about religious experiences in high places.
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 location.
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 48:2-3).
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 Olivet.
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 pantheism.
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 he founded.
That’s what the Chapel of the Sacred Heart is there for.
F. Douglas Kneibert writes
from Sedalia, Missouri.
Chapel of the
Teton Park Road
Jackson, WY 83001
Scroll down to Grand Teton.
Planning Your Visit
Open from 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 wheelchair accessible.
- October 18-24, 2009