Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Old Monarch, Two Years Later

When I came to Chaffee County for the first time in August 2007, the day I went to Old Monarch Pass was the high point of the trip (see entry entitled "God's Grandeur" for one account of it). I encountered God on that mountaintop in a way I never had before. I felt God "speak" to me (not audibly, or via any other sensory mode, but perceptibly) about several issues that were weighing heavily on my heart.

I was so affected by it all, I even piled up some stones a la Jacob and announced aloud, "Surely the Lord was in this place."

As I made my descent (I had climbed to the highest point accessible above the pass), I was exhilarated and inspired. Over the next hour or two, as I drove toward Gunnison, I laid out the plan for a work of theological fiction I plan to write, entitled God Explains It All. Unfortunately, I didn't have a way to record my thoughts, so it wasn't until hours later, over dinner in Salida, that I wrote out pages of notes in longhand on the entire experience. It was a watershed event.

So, naturally, returning to Chaffee County two years later, I had to revisit the exact spot at the top of Old Monarch Pass to see what God had been up to since I left.

At first, I thought nothing had changed. The climb was still exhausting, the view was still spectacular, and the rock formation at the top was exactly the same. (I tried to recreate the same pose in my self portrait, but the camera wouldn't cooperate.) But then it dawned on me that these things had not changed because they live in what Keats called "slow time." Whatever changes they go through are so slight and subtle as to be imperceptible to we finite mortals.

Then, I realized that even though the same species of wildflowers and insects were present, the actual individuals with whom I had shared this spot two years earlier had completed a lifetime and were gone. Returned to the earth and reborn in new forms.

Finally, I thought about how much I had changed. My "Bethel" moment in 2007 had been only the first in a series of watershed events. My father died before 2007 was over. I almost became the president of another seminary while my father was dying but found out I wasn't chosen the week after he died. Then I took an ambulance ride to the ER at 9:42 pm on February 1, 2008 with chest pains and spent 16 hours on a gurney. My son moved to another state and took a piece of me with him. My mother moved into assisted living and gave Barbara and me her house, which we remodeled and moved into last month.

All of these thoughts flooded my mind while I was trying to get the camera to sit on a rock for the self portrait, but the wind kept blowing it off. The wind turned bitterly cold, and I saw a large, angry looking, dark blue cloud coming up behind me. That's when it occurred to me that I was the highest point for miles. So I scurried down the peak back to my car, trying not to fall and break something.

The first time, a sense of God's presence filled me to overflowing and lasted for hours. This time, all I felt was God's displeasure. (And no, I'm not projecting God into the thundercloud or suggesting that God used it to chase me down off the mountain.)

As I got into my car to drive back down into the valley, I apologized to God for trying to script a holy moment. "The wind blows where it will."


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