I really enjoy the movie called The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain. In this somewhat obscure film, released in the mid 90’s, a pair of English cartographers have been sent to a small Welsh town to measure the town’s mountain. After taking careful measurements, the cartographers determine that the town’s mountain is in fact no longer considered a mountain, but instead a hill. It is 16 feet short of the 1000 feet required for “mountain” status. The townspeople are distraught over this change in status. Who wants a hill when you can have a mountain?
This is how it is in our spiritual journey. We want the mountaintop experiences all the time. These experiences are magical, life-changing, inspiring, exciting, powerful, over-the-top, and give us new perspective. These are the experiences we want to capture and hold on to forever. Hills are just, well, hills.
It would be nice if all of life could be a mountaintop experience, but we don’t live on top of mountains. The reality is we will spend a large portion of our spiritual journey on the hills and in the valleys. But we do not need to be dismayed! Our God meets us right where we are all the time. God meets us on our mountaintops, hills, and in our valleys. The question is, do we recognize the fullness and presence of God every day, or only on the mountaintops?
In the movie, the townspeople come together and decide to make a mound of dirt on top of the hill to raise it the required 16 additional feet, thereby restoring their mountain. This required moving massive amounts of dirt from the base of the hill to the top, 984 feet up. The movie is set in a small rural village in the early 1900’s, so there are no bulldozers or loaders the townspeople can hire to help. They are going to have to move the dirt the old fashioned way, one bucket at a time, by hand.
After working tirelessly together day and night and for days on end, the townspeople accomplish their goal. The visiting cartographers measure the hill and declare it a mountain once again. They celebrate on top of their mountain with great joy and jubilation. They have been part of something greater than themselves.
And so it is with our spiritual journey. There will be times when we are on a spiritual mountaintop, and we will celebrate with great joy and jubilation, giving praise to God. There will be times we are on the hill or in the valley, moving the bucket by hand. It will be hard work, dirty and tiresome at times. Yet even then, we need to remember to celebrate with great joy and jubilation, giving praise that God is with us every step of the way.
The movie ends with a shot of the townspeople, somewhat older now, carrying buckets of dirt up the mountain once again. It seems they must repeat this task periodically to maintain the required height of 1000 feet, as the mountain settles.
The hardest thing for us to do after a mountaintop spiritual experience is to remember to do the maintenance. As our mountain settles back into a hill, or should we find ourselves in a valley, we can maintain our relationship with God by practicing the spiritual disciplines (prayer, study, meditation, simple living, and so on), coming together as a community of believers (worship), carrying the bucket up the hill for others when they are unable to do it themselves (participating in small groups and missions), and letting others carry our bucket when we ourselves grow weary (loving one another), recognizing the fullness and presence of God who journeys with us always.
Lori Trupp serves as Director of Children’s Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.