Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The rims of what I cannot imagine

I have not written in weeks, at least in this blog or on the computer.  I have, however, been writing volumes in my thoughts, taking notes on my phone, scribbling on every scrap of paper, searching for a pencil at stop lights, trying to capture words to describe a hike two weeks ago that my husband and I took in the Grand Canyon.

Even now, I feel like a reluctant third-grader, sitting at the kitchen table with an assignment the night before it is due, a one-page composition to write, "What I did on my family vacation."  There is no first sentence, there is no final word.  And that which is most profound is not what we did, but how we are changed.

I struggle to write the words, not because it is hard to find them, but because there are so many.  I cannot wrap my mind around them or tie them neatly with a bow.  But this morning, the words pressed hard against me.  "Write something," a composer friend suggested over the weekend.  I cannot tell all, but I can begin, even though it feels like weakly whistling a tune from a resounding symphony.

We met the small group of people with whom we would hike over the next several days, rim to rim.  The seven of us would be bonded by doing life together for this very short time, moving from awkward strangers into the beginnings of friendship, the sharing of stories, the meshing together of our lives, and the glad fellowship of peanut M&M's.

The first day, we traveled for hours through scrub land and cactus.  A rare beauty emerged from what most would deem a wilderness.  And I was reminded as in so many places that Bill and I have lived and moved, unfamiliarity does not mean a wasteland but what has yet to be discovered. As the van followed the solitary pavement through flora foreign to my eyes, I felt like one of our toddler grandchildren, asking over and over, "What dat called?"

A splendor spread out before us, and we were drawn to it.

Suddenly and without explanation, the ground broke off --snapped like a saltine --and revealed what was below the surface, beyond our own vision to an awe that had no language. There was suddenly the canyon, a mile deep and ten miles wide, and a mighty river below, thick and red.  We stood silently.  No words could describe what lay before us, beneath us, over us, beyond what we have known or can ever know. If the road hadn't stopped, or if we had traveled hundreds of years ago, we would have driven right over the edge.  It came without warning.

It was not that there was a gradual sliding or even a suggestion of what was to come, but an abrupt vision, a breaking through, an acknowledgment of what is real and what is not, a strong intimacy in an unfamiliar place, and somehow, a recognized voice calling us home.

None of us could help but being changed by it. I wished for proficiency in a thousand languages to be able to describe "wow."

Early before dawn the next day, we arose in the darkness in great anticipation of the sunrise.  But we found already before us, crowds of tourists transformed into sojourners on a religious pilgrimage.  The same reluctant people who at home hit the snooze alarm every morning stood shivering in the darkness and expectant on the edge of the cliffs, waiting for the break of dawn, these pilgrims of the new day. The sun's brilliant rays inched up over the edge of the horizon, breaking forth and bathing the world in a different light,  right on time.  There is something more here.  Something much bigger beckoning in my life. 

There are always explanations for what cannot be explained, the movement of powerful waters, tectonic shifts of massive shelves, layers of rock, a careful arrangement of massive colors and textures, monumental walls, the mysteries of what unfolds before us.  There is no stirring of the human heart in a geology lecture or a rock collection.  But here, in this place and time, we were all in awe.  That which is beyond us is a presence that we miss in our tiny myopic worlds.

Later that night in the lodge, a seasoned and uniformed ranger presented his power point slides, his memorized script about how this came to be, a mantra repeated so many times it was devoid of life, no excitement, just words strung together to form complicated explanations of what happened, his charts of what "the experts" said could have happened, a particular ordering of events, myths that periodically shift trying desperately to account for what is ancient and true and unchanging, and theories taught as facts. We cannot help but know there is a reason why.  Nothing just happens.  And certainly nothing like this. 

As we exited that beautiful man-made lodge and wandered outside the lecture room, the cliffs were illumined by a billion stars that we rarely see because of our own limited vision.  We stood silent and amazed with our heads thrown back.  We swam in the universe with the stars, floated among familiar constellations, and were pulled under by the warm currents of the Milky Way, laughing because that was the closest emotion at hand.  I am aware that the immensity of stars surround us even when we do not see them.

But when we finally look up, what accounts for the wonder?

To whom then will you compare Me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
       who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
       calling them all by name;
by the greatness of His might,
and because He is strong in power
               not one is missing.

                        Isaiah 40. 25-26

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