Sometimes, the pre-ordained destination is the only thing that will give me peace. I must reach the end of the trail, the waterfall, the lake, or the top of the mountain to feel a sense of completion.
But not always.
As I begin to wear out, as my motivation and ever-loving oomph dissipates I find a rock. It might be halfway. It might be three-quarters of the way or even nine-tenths of the trek to the anticipated destination.
But when I find my rock, I sit.
“I’ll sit for just a moment,” I tell myself, “and then I’ll get up and go the final distance.” My muscles relax and my breathing slows as I sit, snack on a trail bar, and immerse my spirit in this place.
I breathe in the scents. I drink the tall trees or scrub brush. I reach deep into the earth as my body connects through stump or rock.
And God shows up.
The cooling breeze carries with it words. I become dizzy as the words swirl around my head. Tears or sobs, a smirk of contentment, or a huge grin emerge as the words demand to be written down. Pulling out my ragged journal, I write as fast as I possibly can.
That is the moment I realize that this rock is my destination for today. This is the moment and the place for which my soul aches.
When all the words have run dry, I load up my pack and return to the trailhead, content and satisfied.
It was the kind of autumn afternoon when foolish hope was the only reason you expect the sun to break through the clouds. The mass of fluff hung grey and low. With each step the clouds moved that much more within my reach.
Soon I wandered through a forest of tall trees draped in lichen and dark, grey fog. As the mist touched my cheek, I breathed in and breathed out feelings of contentment for no particular reason.
“No,” I said to myself, “there will be no sightings of Mt. Hood today.” I breathed in the moist and cool air content with being outdoors. “The yellow fall leaves clinging to forest floor will be my sunshine,” I smiled to no one in particular.
Traversing a rocky and brush-infested segment of my path, my eyes watched each footfall. Emerging into a clearing, I lifted my eyes. Abruptly welcomed by Mt. Hood and a sunbeam dancing above the trees and clouds I exclaimed, “Whoa!” to the divine one in particular.
I didn’t plan well. I didn’t think about the difference one-week makes at the top of Oregon. The result was my double-nickel aged fingers could barely move by the time my short, two-hour hike in the alpine areas of Mt. Hood ended.
There is something about the mountaintop. The divinity surrounds and I feel compelled to climb higher and higher. As I moved up from the trailhead in the breezy thirty-seven degrees I soon came upon snow. It began as polka dots on rock and vegetation but soon a half-inch covered my path. The gullies were filled to the brim with fluffy white mocha.
My fingers complained, cowering inside my pockets but my spirit kept climbing. The lingering red vegetation of fall contrasted with the sparkling white skyfall from overnight. In the brisk pilgrimage through fog forecast to be inches of snow later in the day, the divine warmed me.
From now on my eyes will be open and my ears will pay attention to the prayers offered in this place. (2 Chronicles 7:15 CEB)
I’ve done it in the car. I’ve done it in a restaurant and on a boat. I’ve done it in the bedroom. I’ve even done it in the sanctuary of a church! Today, I saw someone else do it while hiking the snowy alpine trails of Mt. Hood.
I heard the young couple before I rounded the bend with its cluster of shrublike trees. I recognized the sound of people enjoying a private conversation. As the couple came into view, I witnessed a shared kiss — a peck really — between the two women.
This should be unremarkable and certainly not blogworthy. People kiss everyday. People, especially young people, kiss in public places and I don’t give it a thought. But I was disturbed by this experience. The kiss itself didn’t bother me but the look on the young woman’s face when she saw me has stuck with me. On her face I saw the surprise of being witnessed. Her expression revealed concern, maybe even fear of my response. I smiled what I hope was a reassuring smile and nodded my head as I continued on my way.
Driving away from the trailhead, I played her expression and response through my mind. I felt angry at a culture that would make someone fear kissing the one she loved. I felt ashamed at my own Christian faith that too often implies the love of these two young women is sinful or repulsive. Love is never repulsive. Love is never something to be discouraged but something that should be encouraged. Love is the language of the divine.
In my passionate musing about the encounter, the divine spirit renewed my resolve to lead my rural, eastern Oregon congregation to officially and publicly become open and affirming of people “of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.” (1) The love represented by this couple’s kiss is sacred and should be celebrated.
I smiled. Once again I met God on the sacred mountain.
Every hike has a moment. In each hike there comes a moment that makes the strained muscles, the perspiration, and the overall effort worth the journey. As I journeyed a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (near Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood), the moment came when I rounded a bend, slogged up an incline, and came upon a view of a deep chasm and Mt. Hood.
But this post is not about The Moment. It is about the bonus moments that some trails offer up with divine abundance. The waterfall reached by a scramble up a canyon filled with rocks, gravel, sand, and boulder was just such a bonus moment offered by the Pacific Crest Trail near Timberline Lodge. The challenging scramble forced me to move from one side and again the other of rushing snowmelt. The bonus moment was worth the risk of landing in icy water.
But this post is not about that bonus moment, either. It is about those bonus moments that distract me from thoughts of well-prepared food and a shower as my trip nears its end. They are parting gifts that often bring a tear to my eye.
This post is about the creature that I caught in my peripheral vision as I moved through a canyon. The movement of the orange mammal was a divine gift as I was returning to the trailhead and thinking about filling my belly. It was the Just One More Bonus Moment that crowned my ten mile hike with a golden glow.
It does not surprise me that our ancient kindred perceived mountaintops as the place where God resides. There is something mystical in the jutting face of mountains. There is something that calls to me when I am within sight of snowy peaks.
I often worry that I will drive off the road when in view of the snow-covered mountains of the Cascade Range, especially Oregon’s Mt. Hood. I struggle to keep my eyes on the road and off the divine curves of the rising rock..
Perhaps, the allure is stronger for me because, though I spent some of my childhood under its watchful gaze, most of my growing up years were in the mid-south and mid-west. Those regions of the country have much beauty but snow-capped peaks are not among them.
As I was hiking and climbing the rocks of Horsethief Butte in Washington state this morning, I tweeted that,
I always feel safe hiking and climbing when I know that Mt. Hood is watching over me. When I nearly lost my way, when anxiety began to well up while hiking Mt. Defiance late last summer, my mood changed once I glimpsed Hood. I immediately knew where I was. I was no longer lost; Mt. Hood was with me. This parallels the comfort and relief I feel when I perceive God is with me.
Climbing and hiking this morning, the craggy rocks demanded my attention. The flowers that graced cliff face and meadow alike beckoned me to remember that though my mountain god watches from afar, God is within all of creation. God is in the resurrecting flowers of spring. God is in the buzzing flies and the rattlesnake who calls Horsethief Butte home.
God is in the tiny lavender flowers and the purple mountain. God is within me, within you, and between all that is.
Send your light and truth— those will guide me!
Let them bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place. Psalm 43:3 CEB