Wednesday, 10 June 2009

the craggy side of divinity

"Over the course of three centuries a tremendous revolution of perception occurred in the West concerning mountains. The qualities for which mountains were once reviled - steepness, desolation, perilousness - came to be numbered among their most prized aspects. So drastic was this revolution that to contemplate it now is to be reminded of a truth about landscapes: that our responses to them are for the most part culturally devised. That is to say, when we look at a landscape, we do not see what is there, but largely what we think is there. We attribute qualities to a landscape which it does not possess - savageness for example, or bleakness - and we value it accordingly. We read landscapes, in other words, we interpret their forms in the light of our own experience and memory, and that of our shared cultural memory."

Robert Macfarlane Mountains of the Minddow crag

Blessed be my rock,  and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation (2 Samuel 22:47)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,  my God, my rock in whom I take refuge (Psalm 18:2)

The people standing on the skyline to the right of the summit of Dow Crag not only give a sense of scale to the picture, they also provide a clue as to why the Bible probably uses rock as an image of God. All sorts of connotations come to mind: the comparative sense of proportion puts our own lives into perspective, the sheer vastness and rugged solidity of the crag implies permanence and reliability, then there is the real awe which is engendered when you are overshadowed by such a wall of rock, and the breathtaking vista which opens up when you stand on the summit, which is so different to the view at ground level. In a world of threat and danger the Bible clearly sees such places as having a defensive military advantage too, as well as being good places to hide.

But of course the crag is a dangerous place to be too. It is not free from risk. There a real hazards which must be respected and over confidence can all too quickly lead to catastrophe, not least for inexperienced rock climbers and incautious walkers. And this is part of the thrill of such a place as this. Here you are right on the edge. You can push yourself to the edge of your experience and beyond and have the deep satisfaction of knowing that you have extended the boundaries of what you thought possible. Perhaps this sense can be discerned in the role that mountains play in the Biblical narratives: in such places God is met and humanity is challenged.

But there is a very different side to this metaphorical use of rock which open up a fresh perspective on the craggy side of divinity. Dow Crag is not unchanging and immutable. The base of the rock face is covered by a steep angled blanket of scree. These frost and ice shattered fragments of rock  have been torn away from the crag by the constant battering of the elements it has endured since the end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago. 

To me the scree  resembles countless tears falling from the face of God. It points to the cost and risk of such open, down to earth love.


  1. IMHO worship is scaling the unseen heights to the dangerous places - a balance between never quite losing your fear of heights but still enjoying the view.

  2. great comment Duncan, I really like your take on worship mate.