Mountains of the Lord

Published in Movement magazine issue 112 September 2002

In Onboard snowboarding magazine a couple of years back there was an article called 'Lands of the Gods', which ran through the place of mountains in many of the world's religions. Except, that is, for Christianity. Which given Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, the Mount of the Transfiguration and the many Biblical references to 'the mountain of the Lord', seems strange. Admittedly none of these sound much like powder heaven. But Christianity has dropped out of consideration; it is unknown territory for most of today's spiritual seekers.

They seek a spirituality that will connect them to the mountains they love and ride; a sense of belonging, of awe and yet protection. Perhaps even the assurance that snowboarding can be an act of worship. How did Christianity lose the ability to articulate such things, in ways that make sense to our culture?

We have a hunger for space. The spaces in our culture are all closed off, boarded up, privatised. Our ancestors looked across empty landscapes, sailed across open seas under huge skies. Such things seep into the soul. They are the spaces for which we were made, and all our attempts at control and shelter have in the end shut us up in a box of our own making, too small to breathe. Such space as is allowed to exist is owned and sold back to us with conditions attached. It has already been determined how we shall behave.

We find our freedoms are illusory. Before we even think it, play has become PlayTM, with someone else's values built in. The toys we shall buy are already waiting. The posters on the walls offer fantasies of escape. But they are consumerist. You will not escape, because you will take everything with you. The very fact of you going there will contribute to the destruction of the spaces you crave. This is EscapeTM. The space is already rented on your behalf, commodified and sold back to you. Your experience has already been designed.

Snowboarding is as compromised as the rest. You can barely do it without expensive branded equipment and clothing. Images of snowboarding are used to sell cars and soft drinks, against the complaints of those who actually do it. And ironically those ads then sell snowboarding back to us, as part of the lifestyle package.

But snowboarding illustrates both compromise and transcendence. Few people think about their branding while they're riding. Piste poseurs miss the point. All that stuff is just means to an end, mere background. The promise of a good brand is that it will get you a little closer to that end a little faster. It will get you adventure and fun by technical specification, it will get you community by displaying where your head is at.

Snowboarding shows how the physical and spiritual are inescapably combined. It tells us a truth about ourselves that Christianity, so long tempted by dualism, has often denied. Bodily experience is a means to taste God. In heaven, worship and experience of God will not be separate activities from every and any activity of living. Even now physical actions can both give and receive of God, without words. The purpose of words - of the words of God - is to lead us to the brink where actions take over.

In our unacknowledged hunger for God we are drawn to places where we cast aside our mastery for a moment, situations where we cannot but be humble. We are small and the mountain or ocean is vast. It is beautiful, but can crush us. For those without conscious religion, this experience of beauty and danger is the closest they get to standing before God. And for those who do have religion, it may still be the closest they get in this life to standing before God.

If all nature illustrates some aspect of its creator's being, and if physical action expresses spiritual intent, then riding a board down a mountain is indeed an enactment of worship, is indeed a touching of God, even if the rider has no belief system to make sense of that act in conscious language. Prayers are written in powder fields. The rider seeks to be one with the world and its maker, not as master but as lover, embracing and embraced, in intricate involvement not aloof perspective. The mountain of the Lord is not an ivory tower but a place to throw yourself off.

Here are some pictures to go with this article.