I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
— PSALM 121:1–2 (NASB95)
It is part of life in Southwest Montana to look up at the mountains, their sentinel peaks reaching for the Big Sky. It was not by accident that when this parcel of land was first carved out as a territory of the United States, it was given a moniker from the Latin for mountainous: Montana.1
Shaped by the Mountains
Life in this mountainous region shapes us as Montanans. Most of us never grow weary of gazing at the surrounding heights. The evergreen-clad slopes, soft contours of grassy meadows, and sparkling crags of snowy peaks enchant us — always the same, yet constantly changing from season to season and even hour to hour.
For many, the mountains are a call to action. Outdoor recreation is legendary in the Northern Rockies. There is always another creek to be explored to its headwaters, another lake to fish, another peak to bag, or the hope of another late-season ski run. There’s a reason John Muir’s famed statement “the mountains are calling and I must go”2 is seen on everything from bumper stickers to water bottles to framed art around Big Sky Country.
Knowing the Mountains
Having lived in Southwest Montana for much of my life, I also see stories when I look up at the mountains. When I glimpse Sacajawea Peak — apex of the Bridger Range northeast of Bozeman — from the Gallatin Valley, it’s not just a remote pinnacle, but a place where I have stood, immersed in alpine beauty and a vista encompassing more than a dozen other mountain ranges.
Or, when I drive up the Shields Valley northeast of Livingston and my gaze is magnetically drawn to the Crazy Mountains, I certainly see mountain splendor. But I also see the rocky spires above Cottonwood Lake, which I first visited by taking the wrong trail three decades ago. I see the canyon of Rock Creek, where I and my friends once learned a hard lesson about being underprepared in the mountains. And I can trace the unseen route of the trail up the ridge above Campfire Lake.
The fact that I have been to the mountains changes the way I look at the mountains.
Seeing God’s Mountains
The mountains are more than an abstract backdrop to life. They are God’s mountains. As such, they impel me to worship the One who made the mountains — and me.
I’ve had times when even my daily commute has been transformed to a worship experience at the sight of the mountains — perhaps unimaginably green with the fresh grass of mid-spring, the ridge tops freshly glazed with late-season snow, icy yet warmed by the morning sun in an azure sky. Not only do I worship God for His artistry, but I am reassured of His goodness. He didn’t only produce such majesty; He has also given us the capacity to enjoy and appreciate it.
And recalling times in the mountains reminds me of God’s provision. God has taken me to those lofty places — and back again. I have experienced God’s strength in special ways in those canyons and on those ridges. As I reflect on that, I remember that the God who was with me on the trail has also been with me through countless trials and triumphs, and will continue to be with me through the everyday grind and glory of life.
In a state that received its name because of its alpine topography, we love our mountains. But as we appreciate the grandeur and tranquility and adrenaline of the mountains, we can lift our eyes beyond the hills to the Maker of the mountains. And as we do, we can admire His artistry, stand in awe of His greatness, and be drawn to trust Him more fully.
2 Muir’s original statement is about much more than seeking thrill or refreshment in the mountains. The full quote, from a letter to his sister on September 3, 1873, states, “The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” Muir was driven on by the work to be done in the majestic peaks as he sought to understand and preserve the exquisite nature around him.