Life is full of peaks and valleys. Anyone looking back on what has already taken place in his or her life can see that there have been some really good times and some not so good, or dare I say, pretty rotten. In reality, the world can be a cruel place. What is also very real is the truth that, regardless of what you are feeling or what your circumstances are, you can still have what are called mountaintop experiences. And this is possible even if it feels like your whole world is crashing around you.
A mountaintop experience is what is used to describe the experience someone tends to have while on a religious retreat when they have a powerful experience of God. While on the retreat, they are excited and motivated to live the joyful life God wants for them at any cost. They are then usually reminded that these experiences are great, but they should remember that it will not always feel so great back in the real world and the mountaintop experience will fade.
I understand this completely. On a retreat, there is less stress and stimuli to distract us from God. During the retreat, we can focus on Him and reflect on His goodness. There is less noise to keep us from hearing Him. And of course, it is easy for the mountaintop experience to fade once we get back to life and have so much else to think of and focus on.
This blog is not a condemnation of people taking care of their needs in everyday life. It is actually a proclamation that we can still have a mountaintop experience even as we focus on these needs. Even when we are at a low point, in the valley and everything seems to be falling apart, we can have that experience of God that lifts us up and helps us to see the truth that God is with us. Then we remember that if God is with us then the valley is not that low.
This is not being fake, or excessively cheerful, or ignoring reality to live in a fantasy world. It is actually living as close to reality as you can get. And it can easily be explained through an amazing quote that I read this week that is honestly mind blowing with how simple and yet very true that it is.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity is known for her tremendous spirituality at the end of the 19th century as a Carmelite nun. She has written many wonderful reflections on the faith, which I would highly recommend reading. The following is one of my favorites and I think it helps us better understand how we can continue to have our mountaintop experiences in life, even when we are at the low points of the valleys.
Elizabeth says, “It seems to me that I have found my heaven on earth, because my heaven is you, my God, and you are in my soul. You in me, and I in you.”
“My heaven is you, my God, and you are in my soul.” We carry heaven within us. At all times God is not simply shining down on us like the sun in the sky, but He is illuminating us with His tremendous warmth from within. He is the fire and each of us is a furnace.
We may not always feel this reality, but we should never be blind to it or forget it. Through baptism, God is within us. Our souls are His home and He is our guest.
Yes there will still be plenty of things in life that will hurt you and not feel good. I am not saying that we should overlook trauma and suffering. What I am saying is that we should remember that God is literally within us as we encounter these things. He will see us through them.
What is more is that He will shape us from within to better see reality as it is meant to be seen. John 6:45 says, “They will all be taught by God”. From within us, God teaches us. We experience His promptings to better understand our lives.
This also helps us to better know God who, as St. Elizabeth says, is our heaven. In this way we can live heavenly lives with God even while we are on earth. Suffering still happens on earth, frustration, confusion, annoyances, and pain are all a part of the human experience here. However, God can still make this life heavenly.
This is the life we are meant to live. This is why Jesus shed His blood for us, laid down His life, and then raised from the dead. He wanted us to have God, who is our heaven, within us.
This is why, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, St. Paul says “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you”. Just like the Jewish Temple in the Old Testament that was the dwelling place of God for the Jewish people, so too is your body the dwelling place of God for you.
This means that God is literally with us as we go throughout our days, as we experience our greatest joys, our deepest sorrows, and everything in between. He is, as St. Catherine of Sienna said, “closer to us than water is to a fish”. What is more is that He is tremendously interested in us and our attainment of peace.
Some might object: If God is with us, then why does He not save us from the bad things that happen in the first place?” This is the topic of books, other blogposts, and podcasts that I have done in the past. What we can satisfy ourselves with now is that God is real, He is close to us, and we can experience His love and peace even in the midst of terrible suffering.
Some still might not understand this, but once you really come to know God and believe that He is truly within you, that will be enough for you. What is more is that this is not simply blindly trusting that everything will be ok without really knowing if it is true. What God does is He provides the answers and the proof to you after you take His hand and begin to walk with Him. I have plenty of stories about this if you ever catch me out and about and want to sit down for a chat.
We all can have our mountaintop experiences even in the valleys of life. We too can find our heaven on earth. We do not need to look far. Here are three steps we can take to grow in our awareness of God’s presence within us and cultivate our relationship with Him:
- Believe it. Activate your Faith by trusting that through Baptism God is within you. Set out each morning with a plan to go throughout your day recalling this truth and remember in each moment how close God really is.
- Grow it. Increase your relationship with God within you by being where He wants you to be to ensure this. To be where He wants you to be, think, “what would God want of me in this moment?” Could it be in church? Helping someone in need? Reading the Bible? Going about the ordinary work of your job? When you feel like He wants something of you and you respond to that prompt, you are actually living out your relationship with God within you.
- Enjoy it. Don’t think of it as all work and having to go out of your way to do hard things all of the time. That can for sure be a part of it, but living in the awareness that God is within you is very beautiful. Share with God the beautiful things in your life, ask Him to teach you what He wants you to know, listen for His messages of love and goodness that He is constantly speaking. It truly is a wonderful way to live.
This is what St. Elizabeth of Trinity and many other holy men and women who have come before us have discovered. While suffering is still a part of the human experience, our lives do not need to be dull or dreary. Live your heaven on earth in a beautiful relationship with God who rests in your soul at every moment. This way, you can have your mountaintop experiences even during the monotony of your daily life. You can have your mountaintop experience even in the valley.