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By VALERIE SCHULTZ, Contributing columnist
Easter dawns differently when you don't have little kids at home to anticipate the joy of hunting for colored eggs and candy. The box of Easter decorations gathers dust in the garage. We no longer have to pack egg salad in our lunchboxes for the whole week following Easter.
Easter has gradually become a more spiritual holiday for me, as my children have grown and flown the nest, and as the secular trappings of the bunny have become less important. I think of the many Easter baskets and Easter outfits and Easter egg hunts over the years of raising four daughters, and my life suddenly seems very simple. For the past several springs, I've had to fight a Pavlovian response to the sale papers advertising Easter candy: I feel the urge to rush out and buy four of every treat at the lowest price for my kids' Easter baskets, and then I remember that I have no need to buy any Easter candy, unless I plan to eat it myself. Which, really, I should not.
Instead of traveling south to celebrate with the extended family, I may spend this Easter at home in the mountains. This is fitting, because a mountain is a very biblical place to spend such a holy day. Whenever anyone ascends a mountain in the Bible, important things follow. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Ten Commandments; Noah's ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat; King Solomon builds a temple to the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?" asks the Psalmist. "Who may stand in his holy place?" (Psalms 24:3) The mountain is a destination for those who seek God.
The Gospel stories of the life of Jesus highlight trips to the mountaintop. Atop a mountain, in the presence of Peter, James and John, Jesus is transfigured, his face shining like the sun and his clothing dazzlingly white. Not unlike Moses bringing the law from the mountain, Jesus goes up the mountain and gives us the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Above the city, on an exceedingly high mountain, Satan tempts Jesus with the view of worldly riches and power, offering to reward Jesus if only he will sink to his knees and worship the devil. Of course, he does not. Jesus is crucified atop Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. After he rises from the dead, but before he ascends to God, Jesus directs his disciples to the top of a mountain, where he commissions them to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19). A mountain signifies a momentous occasion, a life-changing conversion, an extraordinary exchange between God and humanity. In the Bible, the top of a mountain is as close to God as earthbound people can ever come.
So here I have been living in the mountains for over 25 years, at elevations up to 5,500 feet, and I have just made this connection: I get to go about my daily life on holy ground. I have often envied those who live at sea level, at the beach, within earshot of the ocean's waves, and so I have not appreciated how closely to the divine I have been dwelling.
Time spent among the mountains is good for the soul. We scale mountains in search of corporal challenge and spiritual rebirth. The mountains thrust heavenward, the air gets thinner, and we climbers can fancy ourselves as coming closer to God when we hike to the top of a peak and gaze from above, nearly breathless, on the wildly beautiful earth.
After the physical effort to reach a mountaintop, we find that our perspective is changed. We may even find it easier to believe in God. Certainty lives in the clarity of the mountain air. "I've been to the mountaintop," said Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before he was assassinated. "... And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land." Doubt and mountaintops do not go together.
Easter Sunday, the most glorious of Sundays, is the mountaintop of faith. The difficult slog of Lent is rewarded by the sacred summit of the Resurrection. On Easter morning we are renewed, transformed, purified, gifted anew with God's immense, extravagant love for us. We know that there will be times when we will descend into some low valleys, with reasons for tears and crises of faith, but not on this day. From the height of Easter, we get to enjoy the view. I may miss the egg hunt, the little ones scurrying like cartoon mice to gather pastel treasure in their baskets. This Easter may be a different, quieter Easter, but deep in my heart, I will rejoice. By the grace of God, I will breathe in the blessed mountain air, and give thanks for the magnanimity of redemption.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.