If you were ever in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, specifically in the Franconia Notch along I-93, before May 3, 2003 I hope you took the time to take in the view the Granite State’s Old Man of the Mountain. The natural rock formation overlooked Profile Lake with its broad, strong features carved out of granite by ancient glaciers. Until its fateful collapse behind the fog and clouds of the White Mountains in 2003, it was a site to be seen. At least I always thought so. It holds a special place in my soul after having spent summer after summer after fall after summer hiking and vacationing in those mountains and under the Old Man’s stoic surveillance. The White Mountains, and especially Cannon Mountain where the Old Man once loomed, feel just as much home as my home town. Once I left New Hampshire the two began to feel one and the same.
You can still visit Profile Lake. And there you will see a sign quoting Daniel Webster that reads “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades: shoemakers a giant shoe; jewelers a giant watch; and a dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”
I do really like that quote. Issues of hyper-masculinity aside, I think it says something about what kind of person is shaped amidst the adversity of those mountains. The weather can change at an instant as dark clouds put hikers on alert or sudden blizzards create hazardous conditions for skiers. The terrain alone along the ridges of the White Mountains is some of the most formidable on the Appalachian Trail. The geography and topography and meteorology of the Granite State alone seems to breed perseverance in adversity among its natives. And that has shaped me.
It has shaped me as all of our places of origin shape us. And sometimes when we face adversity, we long to return to that place of origin for better or worse. I know I long for the White Mountains. I long for them because they bear an adversity that I understand. I am not their master and they would most certainly beat me down or kill me if I was ever so fool-hearted and cocky to believe I was. But I know what to anticipate. I know now that I was shaped by the places I have lived and by the people I have been in relationship with. It is perhaps cheesy or cliche to say such a thing. It seems like an obvious observation. But when you see the fruits of those places, then it becomes clear. When you recognize where God was in those places, they become sacred spaces.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was running away from his brother Esau who he had tricked out of his inheritance. A real jerk move by most standards. Jacob was running to Haran. I hope that sounds familiar. While on the run, Jacob makes camp for the night and has a dream. The dream is crazy and full of all this cryptic imagery and angelic creatures. It’s pretty wild and you should crack open Genesis 28 and give it a read. At the end of it all, God reaffirms to Jacob all of the promises that God made to Abraham that prompted him to leave Haran in the first place. And all Jacob can say is “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it (Gen 28: 16).”
Where are the places that we would never guess God was? I certainly can look back at my times in the majesty of the White Mountains under the gaze of the Old Man and see the presence of God chiseled into Creation in every rock face and tree line, but are there places now where if God was revealed I would say the same words as Jacob? Heavy stuff. Or at least I think so.
I can yearn to be surround by granite peaks and dense foliage again. And that’s fine. But where can i find God in this place now? If I was shaped in those mountains, certainly I was shaped for this.
And do I really believe a special type of person is sculpted in the mountains of New Hampshire? Probably not, but maybe. That’s my bias. I have friends in Philadelphia that would say the same thing about the City of Brotherly Love. I just hope we can step back in whatever place we find ourselves, and say “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”