Mountains have always been a draw for me. There's something about the unpredictable, yet harmonious quality of committing one's self to the freedoms and restrictions of the trail that feels intensely intimate. While I have explored their external wildness, I have come face to face with my interior wilderness.
John Muir aptly observed "I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in."
Rich and I just returned from just that kind of a long walk, one which both terrified and titillated us all at once. It's been a while since we've been able to hike in the High Sierra, knees, hips, they've been getting in the way of anything long or arduous. What got a hold on us, I can't really say, except that it did, and we walked, and we're changed.
My toes for sure. I'm hobbling around right now, waiting for the toenails to come off so that I can put shoes on. But little of the aftermath malady seems to matter much. What matters is that we couldn't wait around for the right time anymore. We had to go. 45 miles, 4500 vertical, 5 days. As Robert MacFarlane puts it, in Mountains of the Mind, it's as though we were impelled to flee to "environments that do not respond to the flick of a switch or twist of a dial. But have their own rhythms and orders of existence."...and longed to let go of our own sense of order and accomplishment and give over to a larger universe. We all suffer from what he calls "amnesia." And he, like we, go to the mountains for "correction."
"They pose questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes," MacFarlane explains and like Muir, saw that the mountains not only make us aware of our immeasurable gifts and limitations, but more importantly, reshape our understandings of our interior landscapes.
Yet, ultimately and more importantly, the mountains quicken our sense of wonder as we become astonished at the simplest transactions of nature. Rich and I wept at each vista, smiled as we rested in the tundra and sighed with delight as we immersed our feet beside the fingerlings resting in the mud and still waters, and absorbed the glory, at the end of a long dusty trail, of bathing in the golden Sierra light and clear waters.
Seldom do I feel as graceful as when I have spent several days in the wilderness thinking through my feet. In my life the sustained intensity of living and thinking in the unplanned actions and details over time is nearly unparalleled. As I pause to take a look back at my life I notice that the moments I find most meaningful are those gifts of some "otherness" working in my life where no prior planning had taken place - where I was "thinking through my spine." Whenever the gifts of the moment happen I feel I have experienced a state of grace.
Herein lies the metaphor of how our challenging forays can mirror our life journeys. Sometimes I wonder if the grace we experience cannot be truly known expect in the moments of actual movement; grace is experienced in the midst of climbing, living, doing, working. My love for camaraderie, terrain, and nature is shaped in the midst of moving over it and participating along with it. I see the power inherent in our experience of the Sierra really cannot be known ahead of the event, one finds one's body and soul immersed in its grace and come to recognize it; in other words, we seem to live the grace provided in the moment. It doesn't show up except in the doing, and living. There's a sort of naivete living in the wonder of life's explorations, connections, and graces. These are the qualities that make my life so livable, and so wondrous.
Funny though, having said all this, I'm thinking good worship does the same thing. Grace, wonder, connections. The songs, the prayers, the labyrinth of Taize worship connect all the parts of us we tend to compartmentalize. During Taize worship our interior spaces light up, and re-engage with The Spirit within us, dispel our amnesia, synchronize our lives, and provide enough wonder and grace to reshape our wilderness within. Enough for the moment, and enough for the day.
Our breath prayer from the Psalm may be: I choose the path that leads back home.
Come. Join us for a Redo. Oct. 2, 2015, 7 P.M. at the beautiful Carmelite.
Bring a friend.