The rugged 12,556 foot peak of New York Mountain sported a long cornice of snow still hanging from its barren ridge. I was alone and miles from nowhere, as the old Cat Stevens song goes. If I fell . . . I didn’t finish the thought. I needed to climb over the peak and hike down the other side to reach my truck. Part way back from a brief backpacking trip to New York Lake in White River National Forest, I had reached an impasse. The trail disappeared before me about halfway up the face. I thought this is where I descended a couple of days before. But now it looked different, much steeper. Impossible. I searched the face, looking for something familiar, safer. There was only one cut through the cornice. My knees were screaming from pounding across several miles of a trackless scree field. If that was the trail, I was not sure I could climb it, especially with my full pack.
I searched north and south along the peak coming up empty. I started to scramble up where I thought I remembered coming down.
They say one way to avoid getting lost on a wilderness trail is to turn around–often–and look from whence you’ve come. I had. But it’s amazing how different your back-trail looks. It gives you context. Establishes bearings. This is true especially on high, unmarked tundra trails that peter out. And in life.
For the Year of Living Spiritually it’s time for taking bearings, for context, for looking back. About a year ago we set out together (some have joined as we traveled) to daily look for the God-created soul in people, places, things, and life in general. Looking back, what is it we saw? I can only speak for myself.
While expecting God to show up only in flaming sunsets, if not burning bushes, I noticed God in people. As I wrote in my January 3, 2012 post, “Writer, pastor Eugene H. Peterson says people are God’s creation too and we can see God in them just as we might a sunset or mountain scape. True enough.” But I found myself falling back to default and looking for God in obvious places. With 6 billion people on the planet, looking for God in people ups the possibility for daily God sightings. Plus, seeing God’s image in others helped me judge less and love more. Funny how that works.
Instead of giving up some meaningless food product last Lent, I fasted from noise. I intended to turn off the radio and television for the six weeks of Lent but ended up feasting on this beautiful silence until August. Football season. This silence granted me awareness of life flowing around me that exploded my creativity and prayer life. Listening to the blues, I began to hear biblical themes in that sad, gritty music. I read more. I heard God and sometimes listened.
My chemical engineer friend Steve and I hiked miles and mountain biked more. On the hikes especially we discussed politics, diabetes (he’s type 1 and I’m type 2), God and the space-time continuum, movies, apologetics, the best bike pedals, writing, our marriages, story, the ontological argument for the existence of God, the books we are writing, retirement, and sex. Someone once said we can often see God in the space between us. I agree, especially when we narrow the space.
Marriage is much maligned. In certain ways it deserves it. As a pastor, I’ve observed and called ambulances on many a wrecked marriage. Dee Dee and I have been steering ours between the lines for 33 years. We’ve gone off the road a few times. Still I never imagined how love, friendship, partnership, trust, comfort, and intimacy could grow and change. Especially through the hard times. Back then–in 1979–I thought our love was as big and rich as it ever would be. The Apostle Paul writes, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” In my marriage I have experienced this love that surpasses knowledge.
One cold day I met with a young pastor and an Eastern Orthodox priest in the sanctuary of the Father’s church. No, this isn’t a joke. We sat side-by-side, equal but different, on a hard pew surrounded by icons and reminders of how faith is real. The conversation we had was holy (meaning different from the average conversation) because of where we were. I’ve had the same good conversation in a brew pub. In that sacred space, however, I was pushed closer to those men and saw that, while the noisy, relentless gears of culture grind on, often determining the futures of millions, a small conversation with-in a sacred space brings heaven to earth. I–we–need sacred spaces to shut out the false voices of fear and worry. We need sanctuary.
There were more God sightings.
But in looking back, I see, as in my New York Mountain story, that I’ve not finished. Have you? Living spiritually takes more than a year. And seeing where we’ve gone gives hints about where we need to go. So, whether hanging on the face of a 12,000 foot peak or standing flat-footed, we will go on.
But before we do, turn around a take a look at your back trail. Get your bearings. Drop a note here and tell us where you’ve seen God. Then we’ll move on.