It was our seventh day backpacking in the trail-less backcountry of Denali National Park in Alaska when we were awakened by the early morning sunrise in Wolverine Creek. It was going to be our biggest push yet- nine miles to exit- so we needed an early start. The cloudless, blue skies welcomed our early departure from camp.
The previous six days were the thoroughly definitive Alaskan experience- bears, glaciers, bushwacking, territorial and aggressive antelopes, torrential rains, river crossings, and 40-degree temperatures, but even more, brilliant views, wild blueberries by the millions, mountain ranges too vast and too numerous to have even been named, and an absolute solitude devoid of any human activity, communicative technology, noise pollution, or even a single, stray aircraft.
There was a sense of great satisfaction, deep refreshment, and imminent accomplishment even as we took our first steps forward that last morning.
Alaska could never be fully conquered, but it didn’t conquer us.
And, we were about to finish something very few would ever have the honor and privilege of doing.
Grizzled and chiseled, we made our way through the gravelly and rocky Wolverine Creek toward Mt. Eielson. This rocky mount stands a mile above sea level and was our best and final hope of catching a glimpse of Alaska’s crown jewel, Denali, which had eluded us for the previous six days.
Each labored step up the 60-degree sloped talus, which consisted of loose, softball-sized ankle busters, was aided by our trekking poles and closely accompanied by our heavy breathing. But ever so subtly, sneaking up on us westward, rising higher and higher with every foot of elevation gained, was the mighty, snow adorned Denali in all her glory.
Only seconds before, our breath was taken by strenuous activity and reduced oxygen level.
But now, our collective breath was taken by sheer majesty.
As we reached the top of Eielson, no words were spoken, as if each of us already knew what to do and what the others were thinking.
There was a shared solemnity, a communal rite of the sacred and holy.
And along the ridge line we drifted apart, equidistant, to sit and stare and marvel and contemplate the beauty, to drink in the magnificence. It was an indescribably humbling, awe-inspiring, and deeply spiritual moment, quite certainly, the most spiritual experience of my life.
There was a familial union, an unbreakable bond between me, the creation, and the Creator. There birthed a moment of singularity between heaven and earth, of the two becoming miraculously one. The invitation was a present taste of that for which we have always desperately longed, and have continued to expectantly anticipate, in all it’s fullness, at the consummation of the Ages.
My Lord, my God.
The truth is that we were always meant for perfect peace and perfect union with the Creator and the creation.
And while there is a deep groaning as we await liberation from the curse, there is a perfect peace and a perfect union into which we can enter, a life into which we can presently reside, that is, not just at peace with God, but at peace with all of creation.
It is a place of shalom, a place of tranquility, completeness, and harmony with all things.
But I am afraid that the forces of our present age are actually fracturing us into successive degrees of separation from this place of shalom.
And it is evident in our busyness, in our technological attachments, in our substance abuse and addictions, in our over-consumption, in our willingness to exploit people and natural resources for finite and temporary gains, and in our utter obsession with the superficial to the neglect of our spirit.
We are quickly becoming a people without a soul, a people pretending to be alive, but who are dying from the inside-out. And this death is manifesting around us as we continue to neglect the ever-present invitation to life in the Spirit.
As Rohr observed in our present condition, “We are a circumference people, with little access to our natural Center. We live on the boundaries of our own lives, “in the widening gyre,” as [Yeats] puts it, confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as if it were substance. As Yeats predicted, things have fallen apart, ‘the center cannot hold.'”
We were created to be so much more than the lives for which we have settled.
We were created for lives that are exceedingly full and abundant in love for all things. We were created for deep and meaningful relationships with God, with our brothers and sisters of the world, and with all of creation. We were created to taste and experience the wonder and joy of this precious life. We were created for thanksgiving for God’s daily provision. We were created to be good stewards of the animals and the land. We were created to join all of creation in praise. We were created to be in shalom with the Creator and his good creation.
We were created for so much more.
And it doesn’t take a mountain high in the backcountry of Alaska to discover this, for our eyes to be opened, for our hearts to come alive (even though Alaska may certainly help).
All you have to do is walk outside and take a deep breath and accept the invitation.
Disconnect from all that enslaves you. Leave behind all that binds you and keeps you on the periphery and circumference of this life. Break free from your attachments and addictions. Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, power down your tablet, put them in the cabinet, and go outside.
You are entering sacred and holy space.
Do you recognize it?
Do you see it?
Do you hear it?
Do you feel it?
Lie in the grass under a shade tree, feel the cool blades of grass beneath your fingers, let the wind blow over you. Meditate on the sounds of the birds and the swaying of the leaves on every branch of the tree. Consider every single detail of the rough bark on the tree and all of the busy insects moving hastily through every deep groove.
Contemplate the Love and Beauty and Artistry within each thing. And how that Love surrounds you and how that Love holds you and how that Love invites you.
Is this not humbling?
Is this not awe-inspiring?
Is this not miraculous?
Is this not deeply and profoundly spiritual?
Is this Love not embracing you and holding you and enveloping you? Is this Love of the Creator not calling your soul to greater breadths and depths? Is this Love not what your heart has always desired?
This is the present taste of all we desperately long for in it’s fullness one day, and all we continue to expectantly and patiently anticipate in our future.
But it is also that which is always right here, in front of us, waiting to be discovered. For those who seek it, will surely find it.
It is good.
The Psalmist writes, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Shalom in all and through all…
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