It was 3:41am by the time we arrived in the mountains of Colorado, but with the time change it felt even later… earlier? After a happy flight (total cost $37, which made it happier) I had fallen asleep in the rental car while trustworthy friends drove. I woke and saw the faint shadow of mountains. The reflection of the moon suggested there might be snow somewhere up there. The stars, so different from the city lights I’m used to, dazzled. Looking down, I peered over the edge of the world while we traveled 50mph.
The world was already filled with light when we woke to explore it. We choose a mountain and climbed. Epic soundtracks escaped from the speaker balanced in a backpack. We were rising to defeat the dragon, stepping in battle, conquering as we rose further up and further in. Arriving to the point where the trail probably ended, we kept climbing because we hadn’t reached the summit yet. Every step introduced a more beautiful landscape. The mountains towering above us were crowned with snow. The valley below sparkled with the promise of the ski season that hadn’t quite arrived.
The giant boulders became loose pebbles as the mountain got steeper and the trees became fewer. Thorn bushes reached out to catch me from plummeting down the mountain. “So, how are we going to get down?” I repeated a question I’d probably been asking for the last 500ft. As we were leaving home, a sweet lady on Marta in Atlanta had asked us not to be faces she would see on the news. We’d assured the stranger we’d be safe. I thought about her as we kept going up. Finally, the more adventurous in our group (everyone but me) agreed that this summit was not ours to claim. I learned later that these friends were operating out of what we termed “pseudo confidence.” They lent some to me as we harnessed together to make the journey down possible. If I fell, they’d be there to hold on to the mountain and then the mountain wouldn’t let me go.
When we returned to completely solid ground, we looked up to the mountain we’d just met. We thought we’d been so close to the top. Looking up from the valley, we realized our humility. We weren’t even half way.
Even though I’d see the shadows of the mountains the night before, even though I’d understood the power of the mountain as the thorns bit and I slid, even though I’d realized its beauty as we gasped in awe of the surrounding mountains, it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized what all of these shadows and glimpses had been alluding to. “This is what you were missing,” the mountains whispered in the glory of a sunrise.
We never even caught the sun, but its promise was powerful. We valued each breath because of the beauty and height and cold at 11,990ft. The silhouettes and shadows, mighty on their own, were filled in with vibrant color and sharp detail. The wind wept at the beauty of the sky’s dance.
This was the weekend before the week whose dates will be recorded in history books. The world was shocked. Some celebrated; some mourned; everyone at some point on November 8, 2016 was forced to realize that they have fears. America realized this is a huge mountain, and though we’ve been preparing for years, no one was ready. Our foundation might not be the strong boulders we thought we stood on. We’re clinging to pebbles. We’re driving on the mountain’s edge at 3am. Operating out of pseudo confidence works for some, but it isn’t nearly as secure as clinging to the rope that attaches you to a friend who’ll be there when you fall.
We flew back on Saturday night. On Monday, I drove to an elementary school to work with some precious kids who have lived hard little lives. I passed images of America on the way, images as beautiful as looking towards the summit. Two hundred construction workers gathered to meet, matching in their bright yellow hard hats, before they add a bit more beauty and structure to the growing dome. Two old men smiled and watched the world change before them as they waited by what must be their favorite stoplight. The discount bread bakery owner opened the doors. People, delightful in their diversity, prepared to fill their days. And children stood up and repeated the Pledge of Allegiance with innocence, beautiful unity, and future.
I drove home on Monday and again on Tuesday. I looked out my window on election night and saw the faded lights, some close and some in the distant skyscrapers. People came home, they cooked dinners, they laughed and sighed, and they lived extraordinarily ordinary lives. I know this not necessarily because I stared into their windows (that’s creepy), but because this was what filled my window of light.
This is all just a shadow of the beauty. This image of America is my initial glimpse of the Rocky Mountains shroud in the dangerous darkness of night.
There is a sunrise coming. It won’t come with the ending of a presidency or the begging of a new one. It was never tied to such human measures of power and fear.
When it comes, these dark silhouettes will be filled in with vibrant color. These mountains will be replaced with the truth that they’ve longed to be.
Aristotle defined fear as an imagination: “a sort of pain and agitation derived from the imagination of a future destructive or painful event” (On Rhetoric). According to Aristotle, as soon as someone sees a way out, fear can no longer be called fear because it has instantly become courage. Fear can also be changed by indignation. Then, it becomes anger.
Let’s use courage to fuel us up a mountain too far. And when we can’t return on our own, let’s rejoice because we need friends who have different strengths. Let’s introduce this other solution to fear: faith. Because even when so much seems to hinge on a decision, we’re all still humans. We’re fearfully frail. We’re foolish. We judge because we value ourselves above everyone else. But we’re also all made in the image of Christ. And if we bear the image of the maker of the mountains, then we have an incredible job to do. Paraphrasing the great Yoda, fear can turn into anger which turns into hate. The ancient Greeks argued that fear can turn into courage which turns into action. Or, fear can turn into faith. And like the watercolor sky, faith bleeds into love—love that celebrates the coming Son.
Some courage quotes:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” –Thomas Merton
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2
“The surprising thing in the biblical message is that it finds in love the opposite of fear and anxiety. There is no terror — one might equally well say anxiety — in love, we are told in I John. The surprising thing is that anxiety is not opposed by fortitude, courage or heroism, as one might expect. These are simply anxiety suppressed, not conquered. The positive force which defeats anxiety is love. What this means can be understood when we have tackled anxiety in what we have tried to see as its final root. That is to say, anxiety is a broken bond and love is the bond restored. Once we know in Christ that the world has a fatherly basis and that we are loved, we lose our anxiety. . . . If I am anxious, and I know Christ, I may rest assured that I am not alone with my anxiety; He has suffered it for me. The believer can also know that Christ is the goal of history. The primitive community knows that this One has not gone forever, but will come again. It thus has a new relationship to the future. This is no longer a mist-covered landscape into which I peer anxiously because of the sinister events which will there befall me. Everything is now different. We do not know what will come. But we know who will come. And if that last hour belongs to us, we do not need to fear the next minute.” — Helmut Thielicke (The Silence of God, 8-9)
“Would you like to know your Lord’s meaning? Okay, then know it well. The Lord’s meaning is love. Love is his only meaning. Who shows this to you? Love. What did He show you? Love. Stay in God’s love, then, and you’ll learn more about its unconditional, unending, joyful nature. And you’ll see for yourself, all manner of things will be well.” –Julian of Norwich, Revelations
“Love is only had by loving. So be up and doing. And remember that there’s nothing so difficult and no stronghold so impregnable that it can’t be broken down (and you built up) by Love.” Catherine of Siena, Letters
“This is what the Lord says:
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.’” –Jeremiah 6:16
*These are just a few of my favorite quotes, but if you have some you’d like to share, I think comments work!!
**Parts one and two of Random Rompings in the Rockies were actually written last year about a different trip. One of my favorite hobbies is finding ridiculously cheap plane tickets to Denver and then travelling there within the week of the decision.
***I didn’t even realize I was quoting Yoda until I read a draft aloud. Thankfully, we’d carried Yoda’s head all the way to Colorado with us…