Places of Spirit

A View of Creation from Rochers-de-Naye (Switzerland)

October 14, 2008

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lake from mountainsDuring the summer of 2006, I traveled with my family to Switzerland to visit my older brother who was working in the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva. While it is not a tremendously popular tourist destination, Geneva is a unique town to visit, because it is stunningly beautiful and has a great deal of history. Located on Lake Geneva and nestled amidst the Alps, Geneva is home to the headquarters of many international organizations, including the United Nations, Red Cross, and World Intellectual Property Organization. Geneva is also home to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), where the largest particle accelerator in the world has been constructed to study sub-atomic particles.

Being in Geneva for almost two weeks provided the unique opportunity to travel throughout Switzerland and enjoy the culture of this country. One of my favorite destinations was the town of Montreux, located on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and at the foot of the Alps, approximately one hour from Geneva. From Geneva to Montreux, we took a train that snaked through the Swiss countryside, following the edge of Lake Geneva. In Montreux, many visitors, my family included, explore the Castle of Chillon, a beautiful fixture along the lake with incredible views of the Alps and Lake Geneva. Montreux is also the location from which the cog train departs to travel up the side of the Rochers de Naye, a 2042-meter high mountain, to the peak.

TrainThis train, the Chemin de fer Montreux-Glion-Rochers-de-Naye, travels slowly up the mountain and stops briefly in Glion. Passing through tunnels, fields, and providing stunning views of Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alps, the train takes visitors to the top of Rochers-de-Naye. This point arguably has some of the most stunning views in Europe. From the peak, it is as if you can see with no limits. The untarnished beauty of nature that had not been tampered with, altered, or destroyed was extremely striking. Despite the war and turmoil which plagues the world today, such pristine places remain on our planet. Being in Geneva and visiting the UN and Red Cross headquarters reminded me of my commitments and duties as a citizen of the world. As members of the global community, we are responsible for one another and for God’s creation. Being atop Rochers-de-Naye reminded me why we have this duty to God and to one another to preserve what God has given us.

train tracksFrom the top of the mountain, we could easily look down on the villages and communities in the valley and along Lake Geneva. The railroad tracks winding up, around, and through the mountains were barely visible markings on the incredible landscape below. On the day we were atop Rochers-de-Naye, it was overcast, and the peaks of the surrounding mountains barely missed colliding with the fluffy white clouds in the sky. This weather provided an excellent backdrop for capturing the environment on film. The vistas were almost too good to be true, and it often seemed as if I was in a museum looking at a painting, rather than looking out over the Alps with the wind blowing through my hair.

Atop the peak of this mountain, life was much simpler and far more quiet and peaceful than it had been just an hour before in Montreux. Without the constant hum of people, cars, and busy city life, there were countless opportunities for spiritual reflection. Paradoxically, I realized the world was at my feet, but at the same time I was cognizant of the tiny place I occupy in creation. It was interesting to me that while humans study the smallest building blocks of life in laboratories, such as those at CERN, God’s creation, which lay before me in all its splendor and enormity, is beyond our complete understanding. Try as we may, we cannot even imagine the grandeur of God, nor comprehend the impressive masterpiece that is our world.

crossOne of the most striking images I captured on film was of the large oak cross that has been erected atop the mountain. Connected to the main visitors’ center by just a short dirt path, the cross is a visible reminder of God’s presence in our world, especially amid the beauty of creation. Regardless of the location it is placed in, the materials it is crafted of, or the size of it, I am always surprised by the tremendous evocative power crosses have for me. This simple cross, constructed of two large oak beams, is powerful in its simplicity, particularly in contrast to its surroundings. Clearly visible to all who travel to the top of Rochers-de-Naye, this cross is a reminder of the Divine presence to those who have the opportunity to experience this small example of the splendor of God’s creation.

Stephanie Bean is a student at Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

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