The Call of the Canyon

A few weekends back I attended the national training conference for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) up in the Rockies of Colorado. I had the utmost nerve-wracking pleasure of meeting my ministry team to the Grand Canyon for the first time and I already feel myself falling in love with our dysfunction. During our free time, I set out to hike on my own but was quickly engulfed by four other ministry members who refused to let me find the freedom in solidarity I thought I was craving. We decided to summit a small peak that was supposed to take two hours, so naturally we did it in one. The second we set out at that unrelenting pace, huffing and puffing, I thought about the palaces I had been summiting just months early and realized “this is a piece of cake” (even though my sensitive sinus cavity screamed with the change in altitude). Mind over matter is not just a mantra used by the weak who capture our pity. When we reached the top, someone, I don’t remember who, said, “you guys just want to read and chill?” and that’s how I knew I had found my people. I threw up a hammock between some rigid pines and fell into a Spanish story of love and mystery and regret while the sky dusted it’s gentle blessing onto my head.

The second we started out, I realized we were about to hike the first mountain that ever captured my undivided attention some 8 years ago. I remember how that peak flirted with my competitive side and how the bigger, older, stronger boys won me over to loving the dynamic landscape by daring me to sprint down the mountainside along with them. They must have seen that subtle flicker in my eyes of someone who is never satisfied and whispered, “let’s go” before falling full force into the pull of gravity. And I in all baby-of-the-family mindedness had the nerve to think I could keep up with them. I was right. When we reached the bottom, eons before the rest of the group, those boys all turned around to me and laughed, not at me, but in surprise of me. One of the boys leaned over to me and said “keep flying, kid”. At the time, I might not have known what he meant, but I think my heart kept that promise anyways. I remember how we parted ways from there and never shared a moment of depth again. I remember how one of them died a few years later and how that was my first clue into the fact that death doesn’t see in the spectrum of age but rather in the black and white of “now or later”. I hope he thought about flying down that hillside when he laid his head back for the very last time.

My ministry team kept things slow on our way down that old familiar peak and even though I was grateful they had chosen me to go along at all, I realized I have a thing or two to teach them this summer about choosing to go fast simply for the sake of going fast; about speed for the sake of speed; about flying for the sake of flying. But, we had just met so I kept my mouth shut like I always do and hoped it would be enough just to write it down later.

My team makes a lot of sense to me and I’m not really sure why. I suppose it’s because their quirkiness seeped through their cracks just enough to not make me feel incessantly uncomfortable in my own skin like I do with most new people. I felt that I didn’t have to keep my mummy wrappings on so tight, that I could loosen them up enough to breathe even though a bit of weird and dark and sarcastic and smart slipped out. Heaven help them the day I cut the wrappings off in full this summer.

We learned many things about how to do effective ministry in a National Park and throughout it all God spoke to me and said, “this is what you’ve been looking for” and I believed Him. I believe Him in that He sent me to the place of my roots in faith to tell me that this season of my life isn’t an escape like nearly every other season has been. He sang Job 5:8-11 to me all weekend long saying “little thorn bush of mine, it’s high time you realize you’ve got flowers coming alongside your thorns and they will make each other beautiful. stop acting like you were meant to scare everyone away”. I realized that I am the earth He has been pouring rain on and that this period of sunshine – hot, dusty, desert sunshine – will go hand in hand with that rain and make flowers pop up on my skin previously thought to be barren.

I am still hopelessly afraid of that Canyon; I keep having dreams that he reaches up and swallows me whole. I think it stems from the fact that I haven’t been able to place my hands and forehead upon this type of land yet to ask it for forgiveness and permission. I’m worried he will speak to me in a language the mountains never used. I’m worried I won’t recognize that call. I’m worried I’ll like it more. All I know is that I fully plan on standing on that rim with my guitar, singing songs yet unwritten into his open palms, and hopefully, he will believe that I mean good.

I hold a lot of worry that my belief system won’t be rigid enough for the rest of them the same way it seems to be too rigid for those who have never set an alarm for Sunday morning. The way I see it, God is far too big to ever fit into one human’s mind and take the shape of the most perfect summation and believe Himself satisfied. I think He whispers between the winds in the trees far more than most Christians give Him credit for. I think they’d all call me a heathen if they ever saw the thoughts I have crossing paths inside my skull. All I know is I have experienced far deeper things running through haunted forests than I ever had sitting in church. There is a subtle shaking throughout the whole inextricable grid of the earth and mankind appears to be the only ones who cannot feel it. Maybe if we weren’t so focused on ourselves we would notice that everything is quaking and our knees cannot remain so straight for much longer. I think that’s why I chose the Canyon over all the other ‘professional’ internships I was offered; I’m ready to be back on my knees worshiping something that is not an altar in front of me, but an air that is all around me, that is in me, that cannot be trapped in the makings of mankind. I’d like to believe anything worth believing in is Bigger than the thing that believes in it.

I’m overly excited to get the summer started, to be back with my team, to be back surrounded by those who treat the earth as a sacred place and not a servant. I’m ready to be challenged and lonely and swallowed and completely whole in a place where most people aren’t. I want to get lost in it all, I think I already am.