Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of my favorite things to do when I have some time off is to go backpacking in the wilderness. I try to go at least once or twice a year, usually with friends but sometimes alone. A few years ago, I was backpacking solo in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was early November and quite cold. The air was brisk and clear as I made the first day’s ascent to an elevation of around 4,000 ft. As I got towards the ridgeline, the tree cover started to open up and I could see miles and miles of wilderness all around. The sky was gray and overcast and as I hiked higher, it started to snow. Eventually, I found a spot to set up camp for the night and after making dinner, I went to sleep. After a couple hours, I woke up and couldn’t fall back to sleep-the temperature had dropped significantly with the coming of darkness and I was too cold to get comfortable. So I unzipped my sleeping bag, got out of the tent and stamped my feet back into my now stiff and frozen boots. I knew I wasn’t too far from a stretch of rocky, exposed ridgeline so I grabbed my headlamp and started hiking up in the dark, eager for the movement that would warm me back up.
I reached the ridgeline and kept walking along, with a strong wind roaring into me from my left. To either side of me, the mountain fell away into nothing. My eyes strained through the dim light of the headlamp to pick out the rocky cairns that indicated I was still on the trail. It was snowing again and the flakes swirled and swept in and out of the cone of light emanating from the headlamp. I walked along and found a large cairn and sat down in the snow with my back to it, using it as a shield from the wind ripping across the mountain. I turned off my light and sat there for a while in the darkness, listening to the wind. I was completely alone, and felt as if the rest of the world and my life back home was a far, distant place. As I sat there, I recalled the story from this Sunday’s first reading, where Elijah sat on the mountaintop and waited to hear the voice of God. He did not hear it in the strong and heavy wind, nor did he hear it in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but after all these had passed there was a tiny whisper. At this Elijah hid his face and listened to the voice of God.
Similarly to Elijah, who waited on Mount Horeb in the Sinai Peninsula, I too waited for a lull in the wind, when all was still and silent, and prayed fervently on that mountain in New Hampshire, pouring out my heart to God and afterwards taking time to listen in silence to His voice. Jesus Himself, in today’s gospel, desired the solitude and silence of a mountain. After dismissing the crowds “he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.” (Matt 14:23)
It is important that we find time to be alone with God. We do not always have access to a lonely mountain but that should not stop us from taking time for silence and prayer. This life can be very busy, and the opportunities for distraction and procrastination are endless. But we need silence in our lives, we need to get some distance from all the noise and craziness of this world and just be alone with God, who loves us and desires to be with us and to give us that peace and satisfaction that we so desperately long for. So go find a “mountain” sometime this week, whether it is going for a walk or a hike, or just sitting without your phone in a quiet place in the yard or in the house. Find time to just breathe and listen to the voice of one who loves who infinitely and unreservedly.