The Holy Mountain

(This article was published in The Friend, 1st May 2015)

Thirteen years ago I spent three days at Young Friends’ Summer Gathering at Pardshaw in the Lake District. They wanted to explore their witness to “that of God in all creation.” In the mornings they generously shared with me – a less-young Friend – their values, visions, and ideas for action for a sustainable world. In the afternoons we walked, swam, and kept talking.

Their visions were wide ranging: “we would be in contact with the earth”, “practising arts and crafts”, “we would dance all night”, “no cars”, “no nations or boundaries”, “security, trust, safe in our own homes”, “everything organic, fairly traded, respecting people and earth”, “complement rather than contradict.” I cannot convey the emotional depth and reverence that infused our worship-sharing in the sun. Or the effort to wrestle with the complexity of it all, the frustrations, the tensions between our desires and our dreams, our ideals and the Spirit of the Age.

I have experienced many visioning workshops since, with Quaker and other groups. The themes are broadly similar. There is a longing for a restored relationship with nature, with ourselves and with other people.
This longing is old and widely shared, at least in faith traditions. In God’s holy mountain none shall hurt or destroy and even the lions are vegan (Isaiah 11:6-9). But people disagree deeply on how to get there. They have tried many paths without success.

There is a path up the holy mountain. It might be called “deep nonviolence”, or “living out our faith in the world”. For me it is grounded in Quaker testimony and modelled by Gandhi and many others. It has strong Buddhist and Taoist resonances. There are three fundamentals:

First, being patterns and examples. If we hope the world will change, we start with a readiness to change ourselves, to learn from the experience and share it with others. If we see darkness around us, the first step is to let the Light show us our own darkness and bring us to new life.

Second, answering that of God in everyone. We listen, reaching deep for the truth others’ words may hold for us, prepared to be challenged, to find we have been mistaken. We embrace difference as well as similarity, recognising others’ gifts and seeing how they complement our own. Listening is the first step if we hope others will listen to us, and perhaps become companions on the path.

Third, seeking unity in a way forward together. We ask how we are led forward together and submit to God’s will – which is revealed when we heed the promptings of love and truth in our hearts and answer that of God in each other.

Sometimes the path appears to go nowhere, but if we stay with it the mountain comes into being around us. This path can bring us to new and surprising perspectives on familiar issues: climate change, oppression, community, violent conflict, housing, the use of money. Deep nonviolence applies in politics, in the family, in international negotiations. When we practise it in one sphere, we develop our capacity to practise it in others and we learn how everything is connected.

We may find ourselves walking against the crowd but we do not negate other paths. We may feel alone. This path can feel too slow. We may not arrive in our lifetimes. Even so it is the fastest path and it is what love requires. Occasionally we may find companions to walk a while with us. That is a profound joy.