Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

Bing has a new photo on its home page for search every day, with little Carmen Sandiego-style facts about the locale or creature, discovered when you run your cursor over certain spots. Today it was a picture taken somewhere in the Rockies, and one of the run-overs was the lyrics to Jahn Denver's song about them.

Ignore for a moment the barely-discuised marijuana reference. Lots of people thought that was very transgressive and hip in those days. Look at the borrowed religious imagery throughout. Additionally, not the theme that only the right sort of people deserve to be there.

Rocky Mountain High
John Denver
Words by John Denver; Music by John Denver and Mike Taylor

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hangin' by a song
But the string's already broken and he doesn't really care
It keeps changin' fast and it don't last for long

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high

It's Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody's high
Rocky mountain high

I've kicked National Geographic and a whole flock of environmental nonprofits for their relative comfort in quoting people who describe wilderness or natural features in religious terms, compared to people who use religious language about, say, actual cathedrals or sanctuaries - all the while denying that they are they are talking about religion at all. They aren't so much lying as just brain dead, with zero insight into themselves.

Let me take it a step further. Feelings of exhilaration are the entirely natural result of completing something, especially something physical, and even more especially while in the presence of something we deem worthy of admiration. It's a good thing, nothing wrong with it at all - the Jews in Second Temple days worshiped after a long communal climb, including singing, on major festival days. (And as for closet pantheism, the mountains and oceans in the background of praise songs on the screen worries me at times.) But we have to see it for what it is. Like the love charms and magic spells of fairy tales, you will fall in love with the next thing you see when you climb a mountain, finish a symphony, or win a championship.

So why, among respectable people, are these expressive rhapsodies considered appropriate - to the point that not expressing admiration is considered a sign of a deadened soul - while religious enthusiasm are considered unseemly and ridiculous?


karrde said...

I once heard a minister harp on this particular song several times (over a period of a year, not in one night...)

But he didn't seem to catch that Denver was worshipping something with this song.

But now that I look at it, I can see the attitude.

I suspect that a great many people who decry Christianity only see it as an old religious/cultural structure with some stringent restrictions on life and thought, and not as a place to experience worship.

Thus, any enthusiasm about Christianity seems ridiculous (or unseemly) because it is excitement about something that is old, stultified, and restrictive.

terri said...

This post made me think about how common it is for ancient religious sites to be at the tops of mountains, or under enormous, spreading trees.

The phrase "high places" from the prophets and the story about the tower of Babel in Genesis are a few biblical references that would seem to discourage this natural reverence we have for mountaintops and nature....though God tends to show up to the Israelites in those places also.