Not long ago I participated in a week-long spiritual formation course. Meditating on stories of Jesus from parables and words from the Gospels such as Matthew 5:44 (“love your enemies.”), Luke 6:27 (“do good to those who hate you.”) and John 13:34 (“Love one another as I have loved you,”) we were there to consider how we could live more fully like Christ. As part of our work, we were offered information about the Cardinal Virtues and the Sister Virtues as observed by Plato and early church scholar Thomas Aquinas, respectively. With a better understanding of the words “Fortitude,” “Justice,” Prudence,” and “Temperance” we were asked to identify those within the stories who exhibited virtuous behavior or employed the use of vices. This, just as the leader of our group had planned, led to more Bible study, discussion, and personal reflection throughout the remainder of week.
Considering “How can we become more Christ-like?” in some of our group discussions, we often found ourselves giving great Sunday school-quality answers! We were sure, from our mountain top vantage point, that we could “do” these in our lives. Our wise leader simply listened and encouraged us, knowing what is still dawning on me, thought this pattern has repeated itself in my life for over 40 years.
On our last day together, many shed tears as such a spiritually high, mountain-top experience had to come to a close. So much information and so much richness of shared experience was ours that words were not adequate. The winds that blow against the side of a mountain are often great, and so, too, had been the winds of the Holy Spirit that blew among us in our time there on the mountain.
Many from this group have kept in touch. We have shared through the use of modern technology the challenges we have faced as we seek to live more intentionally like Christ. Shaken and blown about by the Spirit like the trees on a mountain, we have found life in the valley below dull or sedate at times. When we have tried to employ some of our good “Sunday school answers” on how to “do” what we so desire, we have found even our simplest answers fail us. It seems like we are just plodding along in the valley longing to climb back up to the high spirited winds on the mountain.
After telling a friend earlier this week that I was just “plodding along” she asked me to tell her about my experience. As we shared together about our lives, she happened to say that she would do (her goal) “with God’s help.” The Book of Common Prayer often offers the words, “With God’s help…” in many prayers. Those words and her statement were on my mind later as I was driving. Looking out the car window my younger son observed rather matter-of-factly from the back seat, “The mountains are beautiful, aren’t they? But …the grass is really only green at the bottom – down in the valley.”
Once again I was reminded that just as mountains get more annual precipitation than the valleys below, so, too, do we sometimes get great holy showers of blessings from the mountain top experiences of our lives, but the rain showers on the mountains are not well absorbed by the vegetation of the higher elevation. Often it is the same with us. The abundance of water from the mountain top runs off only to be absorbed in the valleys where everyday life takes place. So today I hope to get a little closer to understanding that with God’s help I will live a life more fully like Christ, with God’s help I will rely more on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and with God’s help, I am living a little more aware of the beauty and growth around me as I plod through the valley in which I live.