Of all the experiences of God we seek, the mountain-top experience, of being alone with the Divine is usually the one we desire the most.
As you know, I love to hike (or climb) up mountains in Wales, and at the summit one truly can have a mountain-top experience – physically as one appreciates the climb, and beholds the awesome beauty of the rugged scenery of miles and miles of other mountains, lakes and countryside; and spiritually, as one reflects upon and ‘feels’ the closeness of the Divine.
But, what about valley experiences?
What about when I’m in London? What about you and I as we sit in our living rooms in our respective homes, in town? Yes, what about those valley experiences?
In his book, ‘Landscape As Sacred Space’, Steven Lewis talks of three landscapes, one of them being the valley experience. He describes it as the place we normally frequent: the place of home or work or school, the place of the ‘hum-drum’, of regularity, and seemingly the terrain of the ordinary, the place where we encounter other people. A contrast to the solitude of the mountain-top experience.
Because it is the place where we spend most of our time, you’re likely to be in the valley experience, the same as me, right now. That’s a valley experience.
‘Complacency is perhaps the greatest weakness’. Steven Lewis
By being familiar with the terrain, by doing the same thing regularly we can miss those Divine ‘nudges’, and be oblivious to the Presence in the mundane. And yet, intellectually, we know God is as present in the valley experiences as in those mountain-top experiences.
‘Driving the kids to soccer games can be just another routine in our day, or it can be an occasion to see God’s expressions in children, in nature, in others around us…it takes intentionality…’ Steven Lewis
In the mundane and regularity of those ‘valley experiences’ we can, as latter-day Celts’, have a God-encounter in circumstances, in other people and in the mundane.
And, so, when the driver ‘cut in’ dangerously when I was driving today I had a God-encounter which encouraged patience and wisdom. And, as I pulled into the out-of-town (and fairly remote) shopping centre (some miles from where I live), the other evening, I had a God-encounter when nearly running over someone. I should explain that it was dark, it was a car park, and I was going slow. It’s just that I didn’t see, initially, this guy, a Muslim man, at prayer and on his knees in the car park. He was in no real danger, and we spoke after, and laughed – and I made an acquaintance and was pleased to meet him, a very friendly man; and I call that a God-encounter (in another), a valley experience.
In ten thousand ways we can encounter God in ‘the valley’. Look around your town, your living room, reflect and dwell upon the fact that, perceiving God or not, the Divine is just as much present there as on the top of Yr Wyddfa. It starts with intentionality.
‘Incarnational reality suggests that God desires to be birthed in us, to be expressed through our imaginations, creativity, and acts of mercy and grace’, writes Steven Lewis, even in those valley experiences.