The Story Behind The Poem
The inspiration for “O Mountain” came from the weeks following my Mom’s death from cancer last year. Among all the feelings that Mom’s death brought up for me, one of the strongest during those early days was disorientation. It was as if my inner landscape had shifted and it was hard to find my bearings. To be honest, that surprised me. Maybe that’s why the feeling made such an impression. I hadn’t been consciously depending on my Mom for a while—I had my own family I built my life around, and during Mom’s final months of cancer I had been more focused on offering support than asking for it. But still, when she was gone, it was like something massive had disappeared from my life, a presence that was taken for granted and connected to the core of who I was. When that was suddenly gone, I felt very disoriented. The feeling reminded me of one of my favourite psalms, Psalm 46, which was a cornerstone for me during Mom’s first diagnosis with cancer. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear… Those words gave me courage and hope during that chaotic, fearful time. After Mom’s second diagnosis with cancer, Psalm 46 wasn’t as significant for me. I had other scripture passages that I turned to. But when Mom died and I was left with that feeling of disorientation, the words of Psalm 46 came back to my mind: …though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea… and I realized that was what I had experienced. One of the mountains of my life, that my life was oriented around, was gone. No wonder I felt disoriented, and no wonder the words of Psalm 46 were such a comfort to me, as they have been for so many.
That realization was over a year ago, but sometimes a thought needs to sit and wait for a long time before it is ready to be given words that can be shared. A year later I was ready to give it a try, and I wrote “O Mountain”.
As I wrote it, I thought about all the different kinds of mountains that can dominate our inner life. It isn’t just parents, but also ideas, beliefs, memories, locations, treasured possessions, and other important relationships. We all have an inner mountain range that we orient our lives around, and when we lose one of those mountains, we can feel very disoriented and lost for a while. So as I wrote the poem, I wrote it about Mom, yes, but I also wrote it in a way that the mountain can be whatever it is that someone has lost. It is about that grief that we all go through, because we all experience the loss of something we hold dear, at different times and in so many different ways. But God is always there. He is the Great Mountain that can never move and will never leave us. We can truly orient our lives around Him.