SACRED MOUNTAINS

MountTaylorNM

Mount Taylor, New Mexico. One of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo People.

As a teacher working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 1970s, I became aware of the Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajo people.[1] The mountain of the south was particularly visible in my life there in the Eastern Navajo Agency—on the maps of the Geological Survey, it is called Mount Taylor. However, in Navajo Lore, it is called “Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain.”

Such sacred mountains characterize the worship or pilgrimages of many ancient and primitive religions around the world. A few examples of these ancient religious sites are Mount Olympus in Greece believed to be the home of Greek God Zeus and from which came the cauldron fire of the games at the base of the mountain.

Fujiyama

Mount Fuji (Fujiyama), Japan

In modern cultures, sacred mountains still exist. For example, the indigenous people of New Zealand, the devout Buddhists of Nepal, and many of Japan’s devoted Shinto adherents make pilgrimages to sacred mountains. I recall Mount Fuji, particularly from my youth. When stationed at a camp on the base of the mountain, in my youth, every day I would look up to the purple, snow-capped volcano and knew it was special. The Japanese say it is the “spirit of the earth.” To me Fujiyama was more than a geological masterpiece; it was the “spirit of the earth.”

Thunderstorm_over_Corfu

Mount Sinai is a place of foreboding and where even the dogs are stoned if they happen on its slopes.

The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, share in common sacred mountains, most especially Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. I am not familiar enough with the stories of Islam to note if there are any mountains the faithful Muslims seeks to go for prayer, other than the Holy Mount referred to as the Temple Mount in Jewish and Christian lore. To them, it is the Dome of the Rock, the Holy place where the Prophet leaped into heaven on his powerful horse.

Mount Zion, or the Holy Mount, is the holiest of the high places in Jewish lore. But there were others. The people of ancient Israel sought high places to worship and set up their sacrificial altars. In the ancient cultures, mountain tops were close to God. The Psalmist sang that God’s righteousness was like the mighty mountains.[2]

Ezekiel, in the Hebrew Bible, speaking for God, proclaims to the people of Israel,

For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, says the Lord God, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land; there I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred things.[3]

And when calling for the unification of Israel and Judah into one nation, Ezekiel again proclaims,

I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel…[4]

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes about the sacred mountains of Israel. He compares Mount Sinai with Mount Zion. Sinai is a place of fear, foreboding, and a place where even the dogs would be stoned to death if they happen upon its slopes. Zion, by contrast, is a place of hope, joy, and life. The intended readers of this letter could make the connection immediately. However, the author of this profound and complex epistle takes the intended readers and people who have been touched by this document over the past two thousand years into a different place.

Mount Sinai is a geographical place for the author, although its location remains unknown. While Mount Zion, a place on the map, it is a mountain that can be touched.[5] On Mount Zion, the world realizes hopes for peace and the world’s hope for justice is within reach. Therefore, Mount Zion is more than a place for a temple, or even a golden dome; Mount Zion is an idea, a new vision, an awareness of God in a new way.

On Mount Sinai clouds hovered, lightning bolts flashed, and the law was handed down. On Zion, the new mountain envisioned by the letter writer, the love of God is evident, forgiveness and reconciliation become the faithful’s new way of life, and God is not stationary but moves with the faithful where God establishes new sacred heights in the hearts of men and women.

BambergApocalypseFolio055rNew_Jerusalem

Folio 55r of the Bamberg Apocalypse depicts the angel showing John of Patmos the New Jerusalem, with the Lamb of God at its center.

The writer of this Letter to the Hebrews proclaims to the intended reader and Christians today,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.[6]

On these new heights, the sprinkled blood of Jesus speaks to a new world of grace instead of revenge. The sprinkled blood of Jesus tempers the flames of hate. The sprinkled blood of Jesus calls us to healing, to seeing need first, and to make a new rule of life–a rule of grace.


[1] http://www.lapahie.com/sacredmountains. Mount Blanca (Tsisnaasjini’ – Dawn or White Shell Mountain) Sacred Mountain of the East near Alamosa in San Luis Valley, Colorado. Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil – Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain) Sacred Mountain of the South north of Laguna, New Mexico. San Francisco Peaks (Doko’oosliid – Abalone Shell Mountain) Sacred Mountain of the West, near Flagstaff, Arizona. Mount Hesperus (Dibé Nitsaa – Big Mountain Sheep) – Obsidian Mountain Sacred Mountain of the North La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

[2] Psalm 36:6a.

[3] Ezekiel 20:40.

[4] Ezekiel 37:22a.

[5] Hebrews 12:18.

[6] Hebrews 12:22-24

Scripture quoted is from the New Revised Version, Holy Bible.

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