The Valais Blacknose Sheep have a long history (to the 15th century!) of being a mountaintop breed. While we’re breeding-up to the Swiss standards here in the USA, the VBN originated in the remote villages of the Upper Valais region of Switzerland where they’re suited to harsh mountain terrain and extreme weather conditions. They’re masters at climbing steep, rocky slopes thanks to their sturdy, straight legs, sure-footed gait, and a hardiness that surpasses many other breeds. In Switzerland, they spend the summer in alpine pastures grazing on grass and wild herbs, and are shepherded to the lower region of the Valais in the winter. Our rolling hills here in Middle Tennessee can’t compare with Swiss alps, but our sheep still manage to find their own mountaintop experiences. It’s lovely to see their nature and genetics express themselves, whether it’s on a bulldozed mound of gravel, atop a mounting block, or simply by choosing to graze upon the highest knoll in our pastures. They seem to know they were made for mountains. In a distinctly human and divine way, we were made for mountains too.
There’s some debate as to who originally said, the higher the hair, the closer to heaven (or God or Jesus). Some attribute the quote to Dolly Parton, others to the movie, Steel Magnolias, and still others to an anonymous fashionista from the 60s. In any event, I love this saying because it expresses an underlying truth: the human heart naturally seeks “what is above.” Hence, whatever gets us closer to heaven is both beautiful and good. Even if it's a mountain of hair.
Someone bothered to count and apparently mountains and hills are mentioned over 500 times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, they were the stomping grounds of the prophets Moses and Elijah, mystical peaks of revelation, and places of encounter with God. In the Jewish and early Christian cultures, mountains held tremendous spiritual significance. On their rocky slopes and majestic heights, altars were built, covenants were made, God spoke, and worship and prayer were offered to the Creator of the Universe, who dwelled in the heavens. Therefore, seeking higher ground was a sacred tradition and means of coming into closer contact and communion with the Lord.
Scripture records many instances where mountains figured prominently in the life and times of Jesus. We hear more than once that Jesus disengaged from his followers and “went up the mountain” by himself. These periods of solitude enabled him to confidently choose his twelve disciples, to find relief from the crowds, to regroup from opposition and unbelief, to rest his body, and to pray to his Abba in an intimate way.
Other times, the mountains set the stage for key events: the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5000, a multitude of healings, the Transfiguration, the Great Commission, and the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. These are all examples of awe-inspiring events reminiscent of the Old Testament mountaintop experiences. But descend a little lower…to the meadows and gardens on the western slope near the base of the Mount of Olives...and there we find Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene.
This is where he prays before his arrest and crucifixion, where his companions sleep as he sweats blood and drops tears and receives the consolation of angels. One would hardly call it a mountaintop experience—and yet it is! In that moment of complete surrender to the will of his Father, Jesus consents to elevate all of humanity. As he says yes to being lifted not onto a beautiful mountaintop but instead onto a hideous Roman cross, fallen humanity begins its own ascent out of the pit of original sin and onto higher ground. And when “it is finished” and our Savior’s body rests in his mother’s arms on the hill that looks like a skull, we are “drawn up” and set upon a rock. With Christ’s victory over death, we can rejoice and sing with King David:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
~Psalm 40 1:3
Having been redeemed, we now live, move and have our being on this Rock, this higher ground, who is Christ our Savior. We were made for this! Like our little Swiss sheep who manage to find alps where there appear to be none, we need only lift our minds and hearts in humble prayer to be one with Jesus, where he dwells on high and yet among us.
“For thus says the high and lofty One,
the One who dwells forever, whose name is holy:
I dwell in a high and holy place,
but also with the contrite and lowly of spirit,
To revive the spirit of the lowly,
to revive the heart of the crushed.”
Oh, how I’d love to write more, but there are stalls to muck and mountains to climb. See you at the top, my dear friends in Christ!
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”