He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Living on the Mountain: Remembering My Grandfather

I was born in the mountains.  My first memories are of playing in a holler between mountains, getting dirty beneath the porch with my toys and imagination to help me in my adventures.  I remember running up and down the steep slope with my cousin, laughing and enjoying the carefree fun only possible for children and those like children.  I remember planting a tree on the side of the mountain.  I remember earning my first dollar for helping my grandfather pull rocks out of his garden.  The rocks in the garden were a perpetual reminder of the mountains, mountains my grandfather lived in for his entire life. 

He was born in the mountains, raised in them, and came to love them.  The mountains are the place where he worked as a coal miner for many years.  The mountains are the place where he got married.  The mountains are the place where he somehow survived a drop of a hundred feet.  The mountains were the place where he hunted and fished and had family picnics.  The mountains were the place where he grew wholesome foods in his garden, tended to the livestock, and raised his children.

He did leave the mountains on occasion to visit us after we moved away to the South, but he always returned to them faithfully.  And so did I, during the summers and winter breaks; I still love the mountains to this day.  They are my spiritual home, a place of serene retreat from the insanity and inanity of modern life into the simple and hard-working life of those who thrive in the mountains.  There is a cleanliness and beauty to that life that is unexpected by those who see how physically grueling and dirty the work of the mountains often is for their denizens.  All the time spent on the work necessary to survive while cultivating a vibrant family life may produce lots of dirt on the body, but in doing so it leaves much less time for dirtying up the spirit.

My grandfather was a country preacher, the pastor of the local Church of Christ, a small house church with none of the fancy electronic devices, musical instruments, or giant crosses that so frequently  characterize contemporary American Christian worship.  He studied his Bible often, and it was the one thing he always brought to church with him along with his reverence for Communion, delivering a simple sermon each week; I never heard a sermon that wasn't focused on living out the life of Christian conduct.  It was a life he lived amazingly well.
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah 6:8 KJV
He was a man who acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God. I hope to someday be even half as virtuous a man as he was while he lived with us. He was a Christian in the most important way possible; he truly imitated Christ in the way he treated others with unfailing love, heroic generosity, and gentle patience.

In the Bible, the mountain is often the place where a person encounters God, and my grandfather encountered God many times on the mountain.  He encountered God in the shelter provided by the mountains, in the food grown in the mountain soil, in the family he shepherded, and in the lifelong work it created for him.  He came to live on the mountain in a spiritual sense, enjoying a closeness with God that was evident in the way he treated those around him.  He will now be buried in the mountains, and I hope he continues to live on the mountain in the presence of God.

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