Anglican Church of Canada
First Sunday of Creation Season September 18, 2016
We begin again Creation season, a short holiday from the regular lectionary readings between now and Thanksgiving, where we explore and celebrate God’s gift in Creation.
For our theme this year, I thought we could look at our home here, at creation as we see it around us in the Annapolis Valley – and so over the next four weeks we will explore different aspects of our local landscape.
We begin with the foundations, with what makes the Valley a valley: the mountains. On one side the North Mountain, that small but effective wall, sheltering us from the sea breezes of the Fundy shore. On the other the South Mountain, stretching back through miles of gently rising, rocky bush into the interior.
Mountains come first because they were first. They are the foundations, the skeleton of the landscape, laid down in endless ages as the basis on which later life could grow. They are the visible symbol of what is truly old – as old as the hills, we say. In the Bible, they stand as a fundamental part of the creation story, as testimony to God’s ancient power in the beginning, letting dry land arise from the sea, laying the foundations of the earth. The poetry of the book of Isaiah speaks of this primal creative power of God:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
This is poetry. But the work of geologists and paleontologists continue to fill in the amazing details of how the structure of our landscape has been formed. I did a bit of research, and learned some fascinating things. Our mountains are not so very old, in the planetary scale – not as old as the 4 billion year old bedrock of the Canadian shield, or even the billion year old mountains of the Laurentians. But they are old enough. The South Mountain is a mainly granite block raised up perhaps 380 million years ago. And the North Mountain – ah, here the story gets interesting. About 201 million years ago Nova Scotia was not on the edge of a continent, but in the middle of the great supercontinent Pangaea. The Atlantic Ocean did not exist, and North America was packed up against Africa and Europe. At that time there was a massive outpouring of basalt lava flooding large sections of the continent. Today the fragments of this lava is found as far apart as Morocco, Brazil, and our own North Mountain. The volcanic activity was associated with one of the periodic mass extinction events that mark the history of life on earth, where large populations of dominant animals are wiped out, leaving room for other species to flourish. In this case, the geological outpouring of basalt ushered in the Jurassic age, which, as you may remember, was the dominant age of the dinosaurs. In other words, we have our own North Mountain to thank for the dinosaurs, to the excitement of six-year-olds everywhere!
Part of the fascination of mountains is how they take us out of the earthly, middle place where we live most of our lives, and point us beyond ourselves. They unite the depths of the earth with the heights of the skies, simply bypassing us as they do so. On the one hand they are connected with the depths, they are the foundations of the earth. All the deep and ancient bedrock, normally hidden under the soil, is thrust up into plain view. That is something that not only geologists notice – our ancestors sensed it as well, with their haunting legends of dwarves delving for gemstones in the roots of the mountains. In mountains, the ancient foundations of the earth, the girders and infrastructure on which all life is built, is thrust up into our view. We may not always consciously register it, but we sense it on some level.
At the same time, mountains connect the depths of the earth with the sky, thrusting up beyond our usual world, pointing towards something more. Mountain tops are places we may go to step out of our daily lives. They are popular destinations for hikers, challenges for mountaineers. What is the fascination, if not to stand above the world and look down from a different perspective, and to feel oneself closer to the skies.
And so mountain tops have this important role in Scripture. Often we hear of Jesus withdrawing to a mountaintop to pray. This practice of Jesus is simply part of a pattern that runs through Scripture. Think of the stories that cluster around mountains: Mt. Moriah, where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the law; Mt. Nebo, from which he saw the promised land from afar. And in the New Testament: Mt. Tabor, the site of the transfiguration; Golgotha, hill on which Jesus was crucified; the mount of the ascension. And over it all, in the biblical imagination, towers Mt Zion, the holy mountain: the paradox of a city on a hill, the vision of an entire human life lifted above the everyday to be lived in the presence and awareness of God.
Mountains are holy ground. They are places we can go to encounter God, to take a moment from our daily lives, to get a new perspective on the world. They are places where we can get a sense of the ancient foundations of the earth. As we continue to learn more about the mind-numbingly slow processes by which our world came into being over endless ages – how the primal elements were forged over billions of years in stars, which exploded to spread them through the galaxy; how these elements regrouped into the planets; how the earth slowly cooled; how the infinitesimally slow creeping of the continents thrust up mountains; how life slowly evolved over hundreds of millions of years against this backdrop – as we continue to learn more and more about this amazing planet where we make our home, then what response can we have but awe, humbled, thankful, amazed awe, the awareness that we are in the presence of the holy. And that this holy presence stands about our lives, protects us and watches over us, as the ancient mountains watch over our daily lives in the Valley.