The Vision on the Mount

“Once we begin to question the world, to demand an answer from our daily existence, we embark on a long and perilous voyage of exploration. Not too lightly should we leave these familiar shores; unless we are willing to suffer hardship, to toil and persevere when all seems lost, to sail on towards the unknown even though death may be our share, we had better stay at home and hug the shores we know. Yet, if we dare and persevere what glories open up before us, what undreamed joys become ours! All achievement is to be paid in toil and hardship; that which comes easily and is given to us, is never the treasure that is lasting.

He who would leave the valley of familiar life in order to climb the far off mountain has to buy his achievement with unknown dangers and continual hardship. His friends will mock at him when he leaves the village of his youth, the place of sunshine and familiar sights, the home and fireside where he is safe from the dangers of the world. Why should he leave all that makes life dear and risk it in futile endeavors after the impossible? But he in whom the yearning has been born does not heed the mockery; there is that within him which will not let him rest until he has achieved. And yet, when once he has left the haunts of man and has entered the dense and tangled woods that cover the foothills, he may well doubt whether he has done right. Here is no path to guide him, no sunshine to give him his bearings; the dense vegetation around seems to shut out the very world and for weary days he hews his way through the tangled growth.

Gradually he ascends and reaches the higher slopes where new and more terrible dangers await him–barren rocks and deadly precipices, cold and piercing winds, treacherous snowfields to be traversed with chasms hidden beneath their smooth surface. His very footsteps dislodge the snow and avalanches threaten with sudden death, yet he climbs on, frost and starvation have no terrors for him, for far ahead shows the mountain top which he must reach. Many a time would he give up his struggle and succumb to the weariness that envelops him, but ever again the voice from within urges him on, the voice that promises achievement.

Then come the last and fearful hours when his lungs can hardly breathe the rarefied air and progress becomes ever slower and more painful. His hands bleed where the sharp rock has torn his flesh, his every step is a burden, in agony he climbs the final slope and reaches the top, where he sinks down, panting and exhausted.

But when he lifts his head and looks around, a new world meets his eye. Far below he sees the woods where he struggled in darkness, lost and erring, beyond again he sees the village of his youth, further yet other villages and cities. But he himself is now lord of all, he has forsaken his world to find a greater World, renounced the familiar sights of life to find the Vision of the mountaintop. Forgotten now his hardships, forgotten the long and painful struggle; in the light of this new world he knows but the bliss which the Vision brings to those who gain it. Henceforth this is his world, the world of the mountaintop; henceforth this is his inspiration, the Vision on the Mount. He who has seen it can never again be the same man, he has the world stretched out at his feet, has know himself the conqueror of life and death and, wherever he goes, his eyes behold that Vision.

When he descends again and returns from the heights to the valleys in which men live he comes with a new joy singing in his heart and with a solitude, which henceforth will make him lonely even in the crowded city. For he moves amongst men who know not the Vision of the mountain top, men whose sight does not reach further than their neighbour’s street, and how can he speak to them of the unutterable things which be beheld in the solitude and splendor of the mountain top? Those who knew him see that he has come back a changed man, that, like the Ancient mariner, he has a look in his eyes which makes men feel less certain of themselves and causes them to pause for a while in their hurried stride. And he, in whatsoever place he finds himself, ever sees the Vision before him, he sees it even in the ugliness and misery of the lives of men, he hears the Song of Joy singing even through their cries of pain, whatever he beholds is illumined by the glory he has seen.

The familiar sights of his youth have now gained a new and sometimes terrible meaning. Nothing can be commonplace or meaningless to him who has seen the Vision on the Mount. The mystery of life is as a secret Voice within, telling of new and wonderful meanings in all that surrounds him. To some he speaks of the Vision he has seen, of the terrible path he has trodden, and possibly they too feel the yearning for the mountaintop and leave life in order to find it again in fuller measure. But thought he may tell of his experience, tell of the vision he has seen, each man to whom he speaks must in solitude make the `flight of the alone to Alone’ and gain the Vision of which no words can ever tell.

Truly, not lightly should we question and explore the world with which we are familiar, which we seem to know so well, for once we have begun this voyage of exploration there is no turning back to the state of content which knew not doubt or question. It is a great but terrible thing when doubt is born, terrible in that it destroys the old world, great in that it opens the way to a new and nobler one.” — J. J. van der Leeuw

(Extract from The Conquest of Illusion by Dr J.J. van der Leeuw)