Wednesday, January 16, 2019

God in the Mountains (Mid-week Message)

God in the Mountains
Fr. Tony’s Midweek Message
January 16, 2019

“Go out and stand on the mountain before Yahweh, for Yahweh is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:3).

Last week, I talked about three experiences where I encountered God in nature, all at the beach: an octopus hatching her eggs, sea turtle hatchlings crawling to the sea for the first time, and a great exultation of seagulls at a very low tide.  This week, I want to tell you three stories of God in the mountains. 
Several years ago, Elena and went on a multi-day hike in the Olympic National Park in Washington state.  We were walking in early June, just as the snow and the ice began to clear from the higher elevations of the trail.  It was beautiful, and the walking was hard—multiple highpoints in the trail followed by low-points.  We occasionally saw mountain goats impossibly pasted to opposite cliffs and hills.  Just shy of Bogachiel Peak (native American name: Bogachi'el, "muddy waters"), we came up over a rise in the trail.  Elena was a minute or so ahead of me, and stopped at the small trail summit.  I heard her gasp, and then start weeping.  I thought she had injured herself on the sharp rocks that protruded on the sides of the trail.  When I caught up, I came up over the rise and realized what had happened.   

There, laid out before us was our first full view of the entire Seven Lakes Basin, shocking and overwhelming in its exquisite beauty and suddenness.  I took my breath in sharply as well and smiled as I realized her sobs were those of joy.  The rocky terrain of the large bowl-like basin spread out below us but still above the tree line was covered with brilliantly shining fields and blocks of ice and snow.  The sky was a light blue at the horizon, reflecting the glowing snow, gradually washing into to a deep indigo, almost violet, directly over our heads.  All seven lakes were still frozen, a sharp unnatural and brilliant turquoise that neither of us had ever seen before or have seen since, a color that seemed to lie behind and beneath all the other colors in this glorious scene.  We both stood in silence, weeping for the stark beauty of this place, and of joy of being alive, part of this landscape. 

To this day, when I need to use a meditative technique to calm and center myself, I go in my mind to that place and time, my “safe place,” standing there with Elena, being caressed by the brisk breeze tinged with turquoise and ice, looking out over silence and beauty. 
Later that day, when we had hiked down into the basin and set up camp on a stony outcrop in the snow fields surrounding one frozen lake, I had another glimpse of glory, on quite a different scale.  This was not a great panorama and stark broad landscape:  this was up close and personal.  I needed to get water to boil and replenish our bottles, so I went to a large bank of ice and snow poised above the gravel at the edge of our little spot of bare ground, warmed by the sun and moist from the melting ice all around.   The meltwater was welling up from under the edge of ice and running down the gravel into the small circle of open water on the edge of the lake around the center mass of its still-frozen surface.  As I started gathering the water, scooping a cup into the runoff, I noticed there in the water, beneath the edge of the snow, were dozens of tadpoles, newly hatched and warming themselves in the sunlit crystalline water.   They tried to hide under the snow, but every now and then, when totally frightened by the dangerous looking predator hovering over the water (me), they would swim with all their might to the other side of the narrow stream and duck for protection beneath the ice there.  I was astounded by the tenacity and variety of life in this harsh environment.   Fully a month before I would have expected frog hatchlings at this altitude, here were little survivors struggling to live, feed, and grow in the icy waters.    Elena was amazed when I showed her, though she expressed relief that I always boiled water we were to use.  As if the threat of giardiasis were not enough, the esthetics of drinking “frogwater” was too forbidding for her! 

When I was in high school, a couple of friends and I climbed Mt. St. Helens (in its symmetrical pre-1980-explosion form; its native name is Loowit). We were caught in a freak rain and snow storm, and had to shelter in a tent far above tree-line.  We went to bed miserable: wet, cold, and hungry.  For most of the night, the wind roared, and we slept little.  Then when light began to peek onto the tent roof, I went out.  It was the most dazzling, brilliant sunlight I have ever seen.  The clouds had settled far below our altitude.  In silence, I watched the sun rise in a glorious profusion of indigo, violet, gold, and scarlet over grayish blue flocking stretching to each horizon beneath us, with only Mounts Rainier (Tahoma), Adams (Klickitat), and Hood (Wy-east) visible, peeking their rose colored domes and cones above the brooding sea of clouds.   

While it is important to distinguish between creator and creation in any systematic thinking about our world and lives, such moments of awe indeed reveal glimpses of God in glory.  The fact that we react to such scenes in this way is itself a mark of our creator in how we ourselves are built. 

Grace and Peace, 
Fr. Tony+