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A couple weeks ago I traveled to Kingsfold Retreat Centre with a group of pastors who have gathered once a month this past year, mostly on zoom, to share our stories of transition and call. We’re all new(ish) pastors to Canada…some in a first call, some in a second or third call, but new to the country. After mostly online gatherings, we were eager to spend time together, and to spend time in the rugged, majestic landscape of the mountains of Southern Alberta.

We arrived at Kingsfold, and stood outside in awed silence. Kingsfold sits at the top of hill, looking at a hill opposite, a shallow, crystal clear river running over a stony bed in the valley below. And beyond the hill, off in the distance, were the mountains. On Monday evening when we arrived, the sky was blue, the mountain peaks peaked with white, the trees green…majestic. Magnificent.

Then we woke up on Tuesday, and the mountains were gone. Smoke from the wildfires north of us had blown our way, settling in around us, obscuring the mountains from view. The smoke remained for the duration of our stay – we never saw the mountains again from our perch on the Kingsfold hill.

That Tuesday morning, most of us, our bodies working on Ontario time, woke up quite early. I took a cup of coffee out into the quiet morning, joining my friend on a picnic table, where she was gazing out at the smoky sky.

We started talking about work. She had shared the night before that she’d encountered a lot of pain in her pastoral conversations of late. So much brokenness, and sadness, and anxiety.

“I just wish God would show up in a big, obvious way sometimes,” she said now. “Just make it so clear that he’s present. And doing something about all this.”

I nodded. “We’re pastors. We know all the still-small-voice stuff and persevering-in-faith stuff and looking-for-God-in-the-small-things stuff. But that doesn’t take away the longing for God to show up in an unmistakable, stop-and-stare kind of way.”

We sat a while more in silence, sipping our coffees, staring out at the place where, only the night before, we’d seen mountains.

It wasn’t until a day later, when, staring back at that same spot, I remembered a sermon Trygve Johnson, chaplain at Hope College, gave at a Worship Symposium service in 2017. He invited us to imagine Whidbey Island, nestled in the Puget Sound, where he’d spent his childhood. Whidbey is an island surrounded by mountains, glorious, majestic mountains. But also an island blessed with an abundance of rain, pouring forth from low-hanging clouds…clouds that hide the mountains from view. For days on end.

But every once and a while, he said, there would be a break in the clouds. The rains would stop, the skies would clear, and there were the mountains. Visible, once more.

The locals, said Trygve, had a saying for this. “The mountains are out today.”

Growing up on that island of hidden mountains shaped Trygve’s faith. “I was conscious,” he said, “that I was living in the shadow of something larger than myself, something beautiful, that I could not see with my eyes, but I knew it was there.”

Knew, because every once and a while, it could be said, “The mountains are out today.”

We had seen the mountains at Kingsfold on Monday evening. I had photographic proof that they were there, that they existed, even though I currently couldn’t see them. By previous experience, I could interpret the present.

In their book, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, authors Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley write, “Ritual and story are common ways within a particular context by which we order and interpret our world. They are necessary because storytelling and ritualizing together provide the vehicles for reconnecting God’s story with our human stories. When easy commerce between the divine and human narratives occurs both in worship and in pastoral care, storytelling and ritualizing have the power to transform persons and communities of faith into signs of the presence of God” (p. ix).

In the stories we tell of those moments when the mountains were out, we remind each other that the mountains are in fact out…always.

Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan, Moses recounted God’s faithfulness to them up to that point. The mountains are out today.

When the Israelites returned from exile, facing life in a changed land, the Levites read from the Book of the Law, reminding the people of the fulfilled promises of God. The mountains are out today.

A friend’s divorce was finalized last month. She gathered her friends around her for an evening, and shared with each person how they had walked alongside her this last year, and what in particular she was thankful for about each person, how they had been signs of faithfulness and steadiness to her. The mountains are out today.

I attended two funerals this last month. One for a fifteen-year-old, one for a 69-year-old. Both deaths unexpected. And through the stories shared and the Scriptures recited – at the visitations, at the funeral services, in small clusters of quiet conversation – we proclaimed the faith held by both these saints of God, the same faith that would now – that must now – carry those who grieve. The mountains are out today.

“The integration between the divine and human narratives,” write Anderson and Foley, “is necessary so that we will have a language to speak about our human struggles that will, at the same time, open us to possibilities beyond the present struggle.”

When we tell God’s story, and our story, together, we are telling the story that declares that though the smoke may settle around us for a time, even so, the mountains are out today.

Laura de Jong

Laura de Jong is the Pastor of Preaching and Worship at Community Christian Reformed Church in Kitchener, Ontario


  • Doug says:

    Thank you for a new way of seeing.

  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    Ah. Great imagery. Reminds me of a Buechner quote: The preacher must speak of the visible absence of God or they won’t believe him when he speaks of the invisible presence of God.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Such a good blog, Laura, and building on what was such a great sermon by Tryg. I used that sermon in Preaching classes last year! Thanks for this.

  • This is beautiful — and helpful. Thanks, Laura.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you.

  • Eleanor Lamsma says:

    I remember that sermon as well. And having grown up in the glorious Pacific Northwest, that phrase resonated with me. I can still remember my dad saying it. He was referring specifically to glorious Mt. Baker, so often shrouded in clouds, but magnificent when it was “out,” shining over the valley. Thanks for your words–even when we can’t see God, we know he is always there.

  • A Goorman says:

    You and your stories are missed here at 2nd CRC. Thankful we can still share them in this way!

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