Mt. Mabu

My summer, so far, has been devoted to three major enterprises: traveling with my family, officiating at weddings, and reading up on history and theology and other matters of interest in preparation for writing another year of sermons. During that reading, I came across a little story that I’ve been thinking about ever since. It’s about a place called Mt. Mabu in South-West Africa. These are the facts of the case: back in 2005, a group of scientists were studying satellite images of the Earth. In one particular corner of Africa, they found a whole lot of green where they didn’t expect it to be. What they were seeing was a mountain, and on the slopes of that mountain, a forest.

Checking with the government and even regional authorities in Mozambique – the West African country where this phantom mountain was located – no one knew anything about it. It didn’t appear on any official maps, and it was in a remote area. Finally, the scientists went out there in person, and came to an incredible find: an isolated patch of rainforest, untouched by agricultural or other development. The forest was full of rare species of plants and animals, including many that had never been cataloged by Western science. Researchers are still regularly coming across new sorts of butterflies and lizards there years later.

Learning this story has had me thinking about exploration, and what amazing, unexpected, seemingly impossible things there are to be found for the seeking. Just think of it: a whole mountain that no one had so much as put on a map before. As Unitarian Universalists, our faith calls us to be spiritual seekers: to quest for truth and purpose by searching in the world around us and in our own hearts. As amazing as the story of Mt. Mabu is, I can tell you that things even more incredible lie within each of us. The search for meaning is not always easy and it can lead us into unexpected and challenging places, but no matter how certain we might be that we have learned all that is worth knowing about Life or God or the reason we’re all here – no matter what, there is always more, unthinkably more to find.

The other thing about this ‘discovery’ is that the scientists who saw the satellite images and travelled to Africa were hardly the first humans to find Mt. Mabu. The people who lived near the mountain knew all about it, of course. They gave it its name and they used its forest as a refuge during Mozambique’s long-running civil war. Keeping the place a secret kept them safe. I can understand that story as well. When we have something precious that gives us solace and meaning in a hostile world, the urge to keep it safe by keeping it secret only makes sense. And I wouldn’t think to fault the people of Mt. Mabu for doing what they needed to survive. But, given enough time, the secret cannot keep; we cannot hold anything just the way it was by hiding it from others, whether that thing is a place or an idea. Old maxims will be challenged, new people or new thoughts will arrive and communities will constantly change. In Mozambique the government has made Mt. Mabu an area off-limits to logging and some other forms of commercial development, recognizing the value of the forest in its pristine state. This may be a model of sorts for the spiritual goods we value and wish to protect. Keeping them hidden indefinitely stifles them, and cannot work forever. But that does not mean we can’t protect them, and see that they are shared responsibly.

Our religious community, at its best, is just a little like Mt. Mabu – a haven and refuge for the parts of life that are harsh and destructive. But its safety does not come from secrecy: it comes from the hopes and strength we share in common when we come together to be a community. I appreciate the time the summer offers to be with my family, and to engage in the study that helps fuel my own spiritual quest. And I also look forward, with great anticipation, to the second Sunday in September, when our regular worship as a community will resume. See you in church!

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


Office Hours: Mon 8:00 - 11:00 am & Tue-Fri 8:00 am - 12:00 pm

Site maintained by webmaster Amy Carlin