(The Nationalist, 06 May 2005)
Twenty years ago I spent some time in Ards friary on the shores of Sheephaven Bay in north Donegal. I’ve always enjoyed mountain-climbing, and Errigal and Muckish – two quite different mountains – are my favourites. On one occasion I set off from the friary to climb Muckish, but, a little later, the weather changed. As I ascended the slopes, cloud came down and visibility was reduced, but, as I was familiar with the route, I kept going.
Then something surprising happened. As I climbed higher, I left the cloud below. There was nothing above me but a clear blue sky, with the bright morning sun lightening it from horizon to horizon. When I went higher still, I was able to look down on a great expanse of white cloud, looking like giant clumps of spotlessly clean cotton wool.
I reached the summit of the hog’s back mountain without difficulty, and rested at the cross on its peak. (A new one was erected in 2000, with the help of the British Air Force.) It was like a little bit of heaven. The usual order of things was inverted, with the clouds below and brilliant sunshine above.
When I returned to the house, the other friars sympathized with me, saying I must have been disappointed to have been enveloped in cloud, unable to see the surrounding mountains, valleys, and sea. That’s what it seemed like to them, looking up from below. The same mountain, different views. It depends on how you look at it..
At this time of year, Christians recall the ascension of Jesus. I think his ascension means that Christ has passed beyond us, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Where he has gone, we hope to follow. The ascension is a celebration of hope. It means that life is going somewhere; it has direction, purpose and meaning, heading for fulfilment in something greater than the human dimension, in union with God.
‘The Ascension of Christ is his liberation from all restrictions of time and space. It does not represent his removal from the earth, but his constant presence everywhere on earth. During his earthly ministry he could be in only one place at one time. But now that he is united with God, he is present wherever God is present and that is everywhere.’ (William Temple, Fellowship with God.)
As for Christ, so also for the Christian. We come from God, created by him. We live our earthly life, a short span of time, trying, however falteringly, to serve God. We suffer, we die, we return to God from whom we came, and to whom we go. And Jesus said, ‘Know that I am with you always, yes, until the end of time’. (Matthew 28.20.)
For those in a hurry: ‘Through the beauty and grandeur of creation we contemplate its author’. (The Bible, Book of Wisdom, 13.5)