Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Earth and Sky (part 2): Cloud Shadows

Cloud shadows rumble across my face. Out of place fences reign in teeming green and jagged crests. Somehow, this violence preserved is a peaceful sanctuary. Angry earth crust can never really be tamed, just enough to inspire wonder and rest. Maybe this is because the mountains have faced so much over the years, yet remain stable and confident of their mark on the world.

Cities and businesses are built around the mountains. Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is one of 58 fourteeners – mountains that jut 14,000 feet above sea level. The chiseled granite rock anchors the eastern slope of the state, and even the streets of downtown Denver were constructed to provide the best view possible of the peak.

Isabella Bird with the third lady to climb Longs Peak in 1873. She was an English lady who spend her life traveling in America and other countries and wrote extensively about her adventures in letters to her sister. She was one of the first travel journalists. After her ascent of Longs Peak, she penned these thoughts:

“From the summit were seen in unrivaled combination all the views which had rejoiced our eyes during the ascent. It was something at last to stand upon the storm rent crown of this lonely sentinal of the Rocky Range, on one of the mightiest of the vertebrae of the backbone of the North American continent, and to see the waters start for both oceans. Uplifted above love and hate and storms of passion, calm amidst the eternal silences, fanned by zephyrs and bathed in living blue, peace rested for that one bright day on the Peak.”

Explorers can never resist the call of a mountain. But mountaineering as a profession is more about sharing a common experience than lone conquering. History is chuck full of men and women on a conquest- even at the risk of seeing the highest mountain in the world as their last glimpse of life.

hat is it that calls the human heart to such risk? Creation screams the glory of God, but how we all respond to that scream is personal and deeply spiritual.

After attending college away from the mountains, I found myself severely infected with mountain fever upon graduation. This summer I wandered everywhere I could, taking pictures and just filling up on the wilderness, a staple of my growing up years.

It is funny how people are attracted to different types of wilderness. My father lived in Moab, Utah when he was very young. Even though he has lived in Colorado longer, he dreams about the red dirt, desert and arches. He remembers every street of the town and wants to retire there. How can one place have such a sway on him?

For the Israelites, the wilderness was not a comfort. From their perspective, it was a place of broken promises and failed attempts to measure up to God's standards. But over and over, His love reached out to them and offered them redemption. The only problem was that they didn't take it.

“For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”
Hebrews 4:2

The Israelites even had an opportunity to meet Him on the mountain but were too afraid to face working out their secret sins. Yet, God met Moses there and offered a way to relationship. The 10 commandments can seem harsh and unforgiving, yet I see them as God saying to His children, “I crave relationship with you! Rely on me to guide you, to move you forward in life.”

On top of Mount Siani, God reached out to heal a nation. Perhaps summits still represent God's desire to heal nations and even our deepest personal violences. Perhaps battle can turn into peaceful respite. Perhaps the wild way is far richer than the safe. You won't know until you strap on those hiking boots and move forward up the trail.

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