The coolness of the morning still lingered as they pulled into the parking lot. A small, unassuming building built partly of stone with stucco façade shouldered a small sign indicating it was the museum. The structure stood in the shadows of the granite walls nearby, its contents holding memories that were etched into the surrounding mountain. On a dark night, when the wind blows through the recesses of stone, if you listen close, you might hear the screams of the dying; martyrs whose blood became the seeds of the Reformation.
The doors and windows of the little heritage center were still shut, it was obviously closed. There was no disappointment. Nearby, the sound of the crashing water beckoned. History on gallery walls could wait, there was much to see today, much more. The four men spilled out of the van, grabbing their walking gear and backpacks in preparation for what lay ahead. Glancing back across the threshold of the valley, there in the right-hand bend of the river were familiar peaks; the Baziglia stood tallest. The sun was just beginning to kiss its peak. The mountain’s history was well known to each of the four. They had all studied about the last stand made by Henri Arnaud during the Glorious Return, and the remnants of the thousand-strong fighting force that departed the shores of Lake Geneva on August 16th, 1689.
There on that peak the glowed with the morning sunrise, 300 of the surviving Waldensian warriors resisted the onrushing force of over 24,000 soldiers and Catholic mercenaries. Lasting through the winter on what God had provided when they found potatoes while digging trenches for their ramparts, they withstood an onslaught of firepower from cannons that had literally surrounded the summit. Obliterating their defenses, the soldiers prepared to scale the steep walls the next morning to claim their prize; capturing the heretics and ending their resistance, once and for all. That evening, Arnaud and his men prayed yet again for divine intervention. Within a few hours, a great fog fell upon the mountain top, obscuring the bonfires of the celebrating forces below. The amber glow of the hangman’s gallows faded as the shroud grew thicker, eventually totally erasing any sign of light from the valley beneath. The fog was so thick you could not see your hand in front of your face. Captain Paulat Tron, one of the ten original officers appointed by Arnaud when they left Switzerland, had grown up in the area. He came to Arnaud at that moment and said, “I can lead the men out of here, Lord willing. It was on this mountain that I first learned to walk, and here that God hath delivered me unto this day to save us if it be His will.” Later, that night, Arnaud and his men, led by Captain Tron, crawled on their hands and knees, blindly following the one before the other, as they slipped past the sleeping enemy. Their path was nothing more than goat trails carved into the rock, on precipices that fell thousands of feet away below. One slip would have meant certain death. By the grace of God, they survived, and when the next morning’s sunrise began to light the mountain peak, much like this day, Arnaud and his men were seen crawling along the opposite peak, like ants, safely escaping once again. This was the moment the Duke of Savoy finally realized that the hand of God was with the Waldensians, those people of the valleys that had felt his wrath for so long. It was then that the Duke sent his army to unite with the heretics and resist the Papal authority. It was then, at that moment, the persecutions finally ended, once and for all.
Freedom would come, slowly.
Like newborns learning to walk, they would eventually find a new world of unfettered faith, one that would allow them the freedom to make decisions meant to appeal to their Christian goodness, while forfeiting the strict tenants that had previously kept them separate from the world around them. Choices that seemed minor at the time would eventually affect their heritage for centuries to come. Sadly, their choices would be the very thing that would force many to leave, or give up their ancient faith.
Freedom wasn’t free.
As cramped legs were stretched and arrangements made for the rendezvous later that afternoon, one of the men paused on the bridge that crossed the raging torrent. His mind reflecting upon that memory of the past as he watched the sunrise slowly encompass the rest of the historic peak before him. He himself, another Tron, had only recently learned of his ancestor’s heroic legacy. Its revelation had been another miraculous moment in his life; one that had already been blessed beyond measure. But this day was not intent upon reliving the past, for it was a day of firsts, another day of discovery. United with two traveling companions, they continued their ascent into the Baziglia valley. Passing a fountain tank made of granite slabs, they saw bottles of wine and beer placed by others that had already started their hike earlier in the day; celebratory drinks for the return. Their reason for being there would become clear, but only later that day.
They passed through the small village of ancient stone cottages. Their construction could easily be placed within the first millennium. One might close his eyes and open them thinking he had been transported back to medieval times. Through narrow cart paths, the trail wound until they turned the switch back and quickly realized they had already climbed to a height above the small cluster of homes below. Stone roofs and tiny gardens with boxes of flowers of all colors hailed up at them from beneath. Dark figures of wood and rock made a picturesque background to the bouquet that seemed to grow in abundance wherever one looked. The trail was rocky but lined by tall grasses, some of which had been recently cut and lay upon the hard stone making it slippery in spots. As the foot slipped on stone, the body could feel the strain. The climb already starting to tax leg muscles that would need every ounce of strength this day. Heartbeats increased as did the breathing, each matching the excitement for wanting to see what stood around the next bend. The air was refreshing, even cool, but with the rigors of the climb, tiny beads of perspiration began to find their way along one’s hatband. One of the men that had been there the year before mentioned that they would soon reach a point where the ancient village of Col De Magne would appear as if out of nowhere. Sure enough, before there was time to consider the pace, they came upon a rise in the ground, and there it lay before them, the deserted remains of Col De Magne; an even more ancient village than the one through which they had already passed. It was now uninhabited save for a couple of buildings where shepherds claimed temporary shelter.
The rise in the ground was covered with all manner of wild flowers, interspersed amongst the native grasses. Above it all, the clear blue bird sky breathed life into everything beneath. The rush of the torrent down the hill echoed off the granite walls of Baziglia as the whispers of the past called between stone walls of the abandoned village. Like spirits inviting their guests, the open doors and windows seemed to call to them. They crossed a crystal-clear stream, treading lightly on rocks to keep their feet from getting wet, and walked down the hill in a setting so beautiful it almost seemed surreal. Once upon a time, there were children running along this path, chasing one another in play, enjoying the beauty of the moment, knowing that days like this were few and far between. Nearby, sheep would be grazing on the lush summer grasses. The icy grip of winter would leave them wanting more of the lazy days of plenty, and remind them of the harshness of the world in which they lived. They were well suited for this life, but one couldn’t help to think that once in a while, there was a respite for even the most ardent student of puritanism.
It was almost too much to pass, as the three men were inspired around each turn. The distance ahead seemed to be negligible, nor matter.
We find in life, we are much like this time as well. In our youth, we are intrigued by the beauty of the world. The nature that surrounds us is almost too appealing to deny its existence, so we chase one scenic vista after another, failing to realize as life passes by, we are taking in what lies on the surface without revealing the truth behind what is beneath. We linger in places momentarily when we should consider them with more resolution; instead, we admire them only in passing. If we were to look deeper, we would find what awaits us in those higher realms of consciousness are far greater than what we first consider the greatest spectacle in our time.
One of the men, realizing there was too much to dismiss, stayed behind to capture more of the lost village. Meanwhile, the other two continued on, pushed by something within. Like drifting leaves upon the wind, they passed the tiny hamlet to the next bend in the valley. Each traveling separate, they found themselves exploring one rock outpost after another. Seemingly, without trying, they found themselves reunited and began their climb together again. As they walked, they shared in the Glory of God on this day and how it was so inspiring to see all that they had already seen, not even thinking of what lay ahead.
As the pair crested a small ridge, the ice pack of the winter still lay frozen before them, like a giant glacier. Azure blue water swirled in a pool below the waterfall that flowed beneath the white layer of ice above. Beneath the still water, they took a drink, refreshing themselves with the bounty God had provided. The twenty-third Psalm came to mind, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside still waters…” They paused to drink from the pool, sipping from the life-giving fluid and refreshing their tiring bodies. They pushed on, for each new turn brought more amazing revelations.
Not long after, they closed in at the base of the last, and tallest climb, they gave pause. High above where they stood, tiny figures climbed toward the peak. “The bottles in the trough must be theirs,” one of the men said to the other. “Yep,” the other nodded in reply. As their eyes followed the trail between the climbing party above them and to where they stood, they reflected upon the daunting task. Looking high into the sky overhead they thought out loud, “Could they do it,” they asked each other? The waterfalls that now surrounded them whispered back, “Go tell it on the Mountain.”
“Yes, let’s do it,” they told one another.
When we finally awaken to what matters most in life, for some, it is too late. There are many that would never make it beyond the still water. There would be many that would never make it to the deserted village. So many become distracted and lost in life that they give up before they even get started. We see them wandering in a world in which they cannot escape. When we try to reach out to them, it is as if they can’t understand the words we say to them, so foreign is the concept of what awaits them in the eternal life, so caught up are they now in this worldly life. When Jesus found the two men on the road to Emmaus, he opened their minds so that they could comprehend all he had to tell them, and so it is with us.
When the men pushed onward, it is like when we are finally conscious of what we must do to reach that heavenly land we all seek to find in the life hereafter. The fortunate ones accept Christ and find that they too can become one with our maker, and when we do, the mountain top is only just the beginning. Climbing the ascent, their lungs ached for more breathe as their legs burnt like fire, but they pushed onward. No great triumph ever comes without a sacrifice, and so the same can be said of our salvation; each has a price to be paid. Christ gave all so that we might have life eternal, and so likewise, the men pushed on through the pain, knowing that what awaited would be worth the momentary strains that momentarily pressed upon their bodies.
Push, pant, pause, breath; push, pant, pause, breath; slowly, they ascend the mountain, slowly, the valley below grows more and more distant.
Yet, when the goal seemed so close, there was one last raging torrent. Unlike any seen before, this one’s ferocity seemed unmatched by the others. It roared within massive boulders seemingly uncut by the eroding forces of nature. Frothing through the gap between them and the reachable summit, there seemed no easy way. “Would they have to try to cross this maddening force?”
“There must be a way,” one of the men said to the other.
“If it’s the Lord’s will, then yes, there surely is,” replied the other.
“Let me descend this ridge and see, and I’ll let you know,” he said, disappearing below the other.
The man left behind watching his companion vanish below the brilliant pasture grasses. His legs were beginning to feel the strain of the climb. “There’s not much gas left in the tank,” he thought to himself. “If nothing else, we have already achieved more this day than I had ever asked. If it is God’s will, then we will find our way to that nearing summit, but if not, I’m content to end my journey here.” He breathed a sigh and leaned on his walking stick, drinking in the beauty that enveloped everything around him.
His thoughts were soon interrupted.
“There’s a bridge,” came the cry from below.
“Yeah, come on, we can make it.”
Finally, when there seems to be nothing left in the legs, they reach the peak, one last torrent crossed, they achingly climb that last ridge, and there before them a vista that seems to stretch to the ends of the earth. There were no words, no pictures that could capture what lay at their feet; all of God’s creation spread out before them.
Standing there in that place, they could only think of Jesus and the scene of Satan’s temptation on the mountain. “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him[d] all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours. 8 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan![e] For[f] it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ””” – Luke 4:5-8
There before them, lay all of God’s creation, a beautiful, magnificent display of the grandeur of our Heavenly Father; and only Him shall we worship.
The men sit and eat, as raptors soar before them, like dancers putting on a show for their guests. On the distant peaks, in snow covered shadows, mountain goats play, romping back and forth in the white and brown terrain. Not far from them, ferrets chase one another. The green grasses full of vibrant wild flowers laugh as the world up there seems so close to Heaven. The men feel the hand of God upon them and soon realize, their time there is nearly spent. The precious memory that this place would put upon their minds would be cherished for years to come. The inspiration alone would come back to them, again and again, whenever the world would seem too much.
For a just a few minutes that day, two men found themselves closer than ever before to God. If only for a brief moment, God had revealed to them the glory that awaits each of us when we reach our heavenly home.
A mere blink of an eye in the realm of eternal time, a glimpse of what can be ours when we choose the path of righteousness. A picnic with God for two sojourners who never imagined nor expected that they would find themselves on top of a mountain dining with their Heavenly Father that day, but yet, there they were.
And for just a few minutes, on a day unlike any other, they were all the more blessed.
Thanks be to God.
Watch a video of their experience by clicking here: God’s Grandeur