Above the clouds, beneath the blue atmosphere I had an urge to strip bare. This despite a sixty-two degree moisture-filled breeze and deeply ingrained social taboos. I’ve had the impulse before while hiking.
No. I am not an exhibitionist; I’m a very modest person.
Neither do I succumb to the urges. Usually I open my shirt allowing the wind to dry my sweat-soaked skin. On a particularly hot day I’ve been known to remove my shirt for a time before I put it back on for fear I’ll burn.
But that’s different.
When the urge to strip bare comes over me it is not about hot weather. It is about a feeling of unrestrained awe in the presence of the divine. It’s about a desire to strip away anything that separates me from the sacred. Within the caverns of my soul, I yearn to reveal my whole self!
And why wouldn’t I?
I am created in the image of God! Why would I hide anything from the boundless love? When the very breath of God blew across the peak of Wind Mountain this morning I slipped off my shirt. Though the thermometer read 62, the sacred breath warmed my sweat soaked skin and weary spirit.
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
The well-worn trail begins along a crumbling former highway, passes between boulders and rocky paths and at one spot even features its own stone steps. Nonetheless, it is essentially a switchback trail through an arid, grassy field. The switchback reaches near the cliff-edge periodically before returning to safer parts.
There is, however, a whisper of a trail that follows the edge. Rocky, steep, and risky, the almost non-path gives freely of itself if you get close enough to the edge. Though holy, this is not a place for the erratic; the wisp of a trail requires steady, sure footedness particularly in damp weather. It requires risk and a willingness to trust that the Gorge winds will be faithful and gentle near the edge. Coyote Wall’s height is unforgiving.
A mere fifteen feet from the sacred ground – marked by large Zen rocks – the sotto voce trail becomes silent. Guarded by rocks, the silence of the trail physically models the pilgrim’s hushed posture approaching the holy place.
Whether the culmination of my journey is the flowery meadow that overlooks Mt. Hood or the tall firs that crown the Coyote Wall, I always pause at the Zen Rocks. I bask in the warmth of the One who connects me to the ground beneath my feet, the mist that flows over the wall, and who loves with abandon.
Typically, I lay on the ground, arms wide, opening myself to the love that is in the universe. I level with God, confessing sins, and ask for help. I feel the arms of Mother Earth wrap around me. The peace of the Spirit settles over me as my breathing slows and the sunshine or the mist dance on my face.
When I am ready, I rise and continue my journey upward toward the meadow or back down the wall to my daily life.