Mountain of Ash
Comfort, peace, and a sense of right.
In the summer of 1997, I moved to the small mountain town of Salatiga to teach at Central Java Inter-Mission School (CJIMS). At that time, few of the buildings lining the street in the photo above existed. Mount Merbabu, however, has not changed. Then, as now, it looms large over this town that has grown rapidly over the past 25 years. Even so, Salatiga still has a small-town feel.
There is no mall in Salatiga — a fact that shocked the teenage daughter of a couple that I visited on the other side of the island. “How do you survive in a place that has no mall!” she questions me with fear in her eyes. It’s quite nice, actually.
Mount Merbabu is a dormant stratovolcano whose name can be loosely translated as mountain of ash. Although Merbabu rarely hiccups these days, directly behind Merbabu to the south is Mount Merapi, whose name can be translated as mountain of fire. This is an appropriate name as ash and lava are often seen exiting from its peak. In the 1500 meters separating the two peaks lies the village of Selo, the site of highly fertile farmland.
There is no ski season at the top of Merbabu, of course, but flakes of snow have occasionally been reported at the top, where hikers — both novice and experienced — will set up camp, enjoy the views, and spend the night.
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.
—Psalm 65: 5-8
There is a reason the biblical writers often connected strength and power and refuge with the images of a mountain. On cloudy mornings (which are many), when Merbabu is hidden from view, it seems as though something is missing. But when the morning sun shines down upon Merbabu, there is a comfort…and a peace…and a sense of rightness that comes with it.
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