Home is not just where we live, it is one of the factors that shape us and makes us who we are.
I reflected on this when I lived in Annfield Plain for a couple of years. This was an old Durham pit village in a row of such villages with a culture all of their own. It was a time when I was thinking hard about recent experience, and I felt that I was, spiritually, going underground to dig out the means which would provide light and warmth.
Now in Bensham, Gateshead, life is shaped by living on a steep hill. Someone remarked, “Why is everything in Bensham so uphill?” It is, physically and metaphorically.
On holiday in Chamonix last week, I was reflecting on this again, wondering what it meant to absorb the craggy landscape into one’s interior spiritual landscape. Over the week, I learnt how people had engaged with the mountains and related to them and how this relationship had changed over time:
- For the early settlers, they were killer mountains, dangerous. They kept well clear.
- In the 19th century, visitors arrived, for whom the mountains were a challenge to be conquered.
- Then they became a place of sport, particularly extreme sport.
- And also a place of beauty that people travelled to admire.
- For the locals, the influx of so many visitors meant that the mountains became a source of business and wealth.
- For those who come to live and work and engage in sport here, the mountains become a way of life.
- And for some, the mountains have been a place of solitude and prayer, a place to become closer to God, perhaps also a place of spiritual testing. There was an exhibition of photographs of some of the many monasteries in the Swiss alps.
- For many, these mountains are also a source of inspiration for art and culture. There was an exhibition of paintings by Loppe and Ravanel, though for 200 years, many artists and writers have come here to be inspired.
As a visitor for a very short time, I have come away with a sense of being refreshed – more refreshed than other holidays have left me – by the mountain air and the excitement of seeing such high mountains and glaciers and snow and ice. Chamonix is not my home, but it graciously received me and healed my soul.