This morning there was a Colorado chill in the air. The kind that awakens the soul, but still hints at the warmth of the day to follow.
It reminds me of all my summer mornings in the Rockies. It fills me with a desperation to pull on crinkly hiking shorts and an old t-shirt, then to grab my Northface pullover as I’m walking out the cabin door, an extra layer that will come off almost as soon as I start moving, but that feels so right when I step out into that brisk moment of evaporating dawn.
Almost every summer of my childhood, my family took a trip to Estes Park when the YMCA of the Rockies hosted a Continuing Education course for Family Practitioners. The morning of our trips my mother would canvas the house, cleaning dishes and making beds, while my father stuffed the entirety of REI’s camping section into the car-top carrier. Five hours after our intended departure, we would pull out of the driveway and head west toward the mountains, our hearts lightening each mile, returning home.
Occasionally, my dad would let me sit in on a lecture with him. But usually, my sister and I spent our days at camp: hiking, rock climbing, and horse back riding with other kids whose familial ties to medicine and the mountains had brought them to this place. Then each afternoon, we’d sit with our new friends on the wide deck of the lodge, drinking hot chocolate and watching the rain that came to cleanse the earth.
But my favorite day, every year, was the day my dad would skip his classes and take us on our “big hike”. He’d help Anna and me pack our backpacks the night before, reminding us to fill our water bottles and dress with layers. We’d rise, bleary-eyed, before sunrise, and drive up into the park, never talking, just listening to John Denver, and the silence. I’d stare out the window as the sunrise broke over the jagged peaks and dissipated the mists swirling through the evergreens.
We trekked all day, across switchbacks and beyond the tree-line, sustained by breathtaking views and handfuls of my dad’s sunflower seeds. Sometimes we’d make the summit, other times an on-coming storm or a late start or our too-tired legs forced us back. Mostly I didn’t care. I loved following my dad up those mountains, listening to the stories he would tell us, sharing his childhood or reforming his favorite books into narratives his daughters could understand.
Some mornings especially I long for that place.
Church has been unusually difficult for me recently. I imagine this is partly due to the fact that I don’t know anyone yet. I’m dealing with all the frustrations of church without any of the community. And that will take time, I know. But it seems there’s something more than that.
Yesterday in class, in a lesson about Elijah and the prophets of Baal, the teacher said something about how God asks us to choose a side, or something like that. And a man in the class said, “No, God demands that we choose.”
And when it comes to the thing we will serve, to the God or concepts or political parties that get our allegiance, I suppose he’s right. But something about his harshness, his certainty jarred me.
What about when I don’t know what to choose? Where’s the ambiguity? The humility? The room to question, and wrestle with all the so many things that aren’t so black and white?
We sit around a room and share what feel like empty platitudes. We recycle and reiterate the same hollow phrases I’ve heard my whole life, but they don’t offer any comfort anymore. And I feel so alone in my unease, in my frustration.
Someone goes on a rant about “East Coast Tolerance“, that dirty word. And everyone nods along. But I don’t want to; I want to leave. Because it festers with superiority, it inflames an us-versus-them mentality. Maybe they don’t have it right either, but don’t you see what they’re reacting against? Don’t you hear the pride, the condescension, the closed door? No, I don’t believe everyone can design their own truth, I don’t believe every idea is equally valid.
But that doesn’t mean we are the sole arbiters of truth. That doesn’t mean we can’t be wrong.
I sat through service, listening some and mostly trying to translate Hebrews, because I wanted to connect myself again to something ancient and holy.
So after church, after a sermon with almost as many references to politics and A&M football as Jesus, and not one mention of the people living outside these walls, I just want to tighten up my hiking boots and walk away, up into the mountains. I want to feel the dirt packing beneath my soles and the burning in my legs as I move higher and higher into the clouds, beyond the trees. I want to connect myself to the earth, and walk with people who love the land and respect the need for silence.
I want to climb so high that there’s nothing, but rocks and sky and me and God. I want to sit and I don’t want to hear a single human voice. I just want to listen to God. I want to observe the heart-breaking beauty of this world and I want him to tell me his stories, the ones that will fight off this encroaching cynicism.
Though I wouldn’t mind some company. And anyone who wants to come and climb and listen with me is welcome.