All of us have had our spirits exalted and our minds aired out by the grandeur of the forests and the openness of the mountains. We have felt sustained and inspired as a sunset stretched her crimson streaks across the sky and the last glowing flares darkened and gave way to the stars. From the hills we have gained something to bring back to our daily work in the cities, have learned a quietness of soul in a world of restlessness and confusion. From that creative spirit that fills the out-of-doors we have come to know open-mindedness and open-heartedness, and that friendship is the deepest and most mighty force in all the world.
There is a great message in the hills, as all who love them know: there they stand, unmoving, firmly founded, steadfast. No wonder the psalmist has sung, as have people in all generations, in all countries, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." Their durability is contrasted with our own frailty. Their foundations go down into the very structure of the earth itself and they speak to us of permanence — stability. How different it seems with us! Measured against the life of the hills, ours is but a brief, swift hour. Their purple shadows fall across a thousand generations; we touch at best but three. Yet these mountains proclaim that such permanence is possible for us also, for the power that fashioned them is in us too, giving our souls an immortality which the mountains will never know.
The message of the hills, therefore, is not to make us feel humble or small, but strong, exalted. It is to encourage us to realize that we have a strength and steadiness greater even than theirs. It is to inspire us to stand face to face with life until we discover that life is not actually a transitory thing. The mountains ask us to lift up our eyes and see ourselves as we really are, children of the Divine.
The Bible is full of mountains and I should like to speak of two of them: two great peaks which outshoulder all the others. One stands near the beginning and one near the end. The outline of the first is austere; it rises out of the rocky wilderness of Sinai, between Egypt and Palestine. It is the mountain of the Law, and here Moses is said to have wrestled with the moral problems of his rough tribes and forged a Code of Ethics, the Ten Commandments — and rude, stern commands they are, dealing with the elemental emotions of human life. "Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not steal!" Frank, brutally clear, they are the fundamental precepts upon which social life is based and which exist in every court of law.
The great concept which emerges majestically from Sinai's height is that of duty, responsibility; that every man has moral and ethical obligations toward every other man, and that these rest upon laws which must be learned. Just as the world of nature depends upon laws which cannot be broken, so human life is built upon laws which men cannot break without disaster. Duty and responsibility — these are the splendor of Sinai.
The second mountain lies farther to the north and is separated from Sinai by a thousand years of time. The mountain of the Sermon, which was to change the lives and thinking of millions of men and women, was really not a mountain at all, but a gentle grassy slope reaching down to the shores of a lake. There, according to the biblical story, Jesus taught the way of life leading to that inner happiness which none can give nor take away, and his words were so true and wondrously said that for two thousand years men have been trying to live by them.
There is a world of difference between the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments. The voice of Moses is the voice of compulsion; that of Jesus the voice of love. Moses says: "Thou shalt not!" Jesus invites people to the highest way. Moses gives the minimum which a man must do and still live an ethical life; Jesus gives the maximum, ideals for which men must strive all their lives.
The messages of Sinai and of Galilee are both true. Moses is right: life must be lived with duty and responsibility; there are basic moral and ethical principles which cannot be broken with impunity. But life to be rich and full should be more than that, should follow not only the compulsion of moral law, but yield further to the dictates of the heart. It is a good thing to lift up one's eyes unto the hills. The hills speak of sternness and ruggedness and inexorable law. But they also speak of gentleness and mercy, and breathe forth that everlasting presence which enfolds us with serenity and love.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)
Great thoughts reduced to practice become great acts. — William Hazlitt