It was a number of years ago now, but I remember the day very well: we’d been camping here in New Hampshire, and it’d been a good day. We’d driven across the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains, had hiked a trail along the great granite walls of the Flume Gorge and across the Sentinel Pine Footbridge that stretches across a 140-foot deep pool. And now, as the sun was just beginning to dip behind the mountains to our west, we’d decided to head up the road a little farther, so to give our kids a quick look at the “Old Man of the Mountain,” that venerable (and, at the time, the still intact) natural wonder that remains the symbol of New Hampshire itself.
Which was great, but I have to confess that at this point, the day’s activity was beginning to wear on me – my feet were tired, I was getting hungry, the kids’ enthusiasm had long sense begun to wane and thus their discomfort level was on the rise, and I could feel myself on the verge of some late-day grumpiness! What I wanted most at that moment was to be back home at our campsite sitting in front of a fire! But, hey, this was New Hampshire, and these were the White Mountains, after all, so we had to see the Old Man of the Mountain (which, now in retrospect, seems that much more important)! But I was tired – so I’m hoofing it down the pathway only so we can get this over with and get back to the car!
But then, as I’m walking, I look up – and that’s when it hits me. Suddenly, I realize where I am – I’m standing at the base of Franconia Notch, with these waves of mountains looming upward on either side of me; above me I can quite literally see where the land has met the sky. I mean, here I am at a place that poets might call “a bridge between heaven and earth,” the very inspiration for the Psalmist’s prayer that’s printed above. Amazing – all this incredible grandeur surrounding me (I’d been touring natural wonders all day!), and yet I’d been so fixated on what I needed to do to get past it that I wasn’t even looking!
So I get to the lookout place and sit down. I marveled at the mountains laid out before me; I watched trout jumping in the pond that’s there; I paid more attention to that Old Man in the Mountain than I ever had before – I even read the poem that’s posted there (from Daniel Webster, I think) that speaks of how the Old Man was a sign that God hung in creation to let everyone know that God creates humanity here! And you know what? Suddenly I wasn’t feeling quite so tired, or hungry, or grumpy any more – I’d seen “the forest for the trees,” so to speak. I’d seen creation, alright, but now I was aware of the presence of the Creator.
Don’t misunderstand – I don’t tell you about this to suggest that from that moment on, I’ve never again rushed past some beautiful countryside without a passing glance, because the truth is that in my rush to get from here to there I often have, and no doubt will again. For that matter, there will also be times, regrettably, amidst the busy chaos that all too often seeks to rule my life, I’ll miss moments of divine insight and power that’s right there before me. I have to confess that my instances of spiritual blindness far outnumber the flashes of awareness; like most of us, I suspect, I often get so bombarded with all the stuff of daily living, what’s been called “the psychic overload” of modern life that I’m very apt to miss what’s truly important. While we might chalk this up to human nature, or blame the changing influence of society and culture, it’s still sad. Martin Luther once defined sin as “the heart all curved in on itself,” suggesting the image of our curling up into a protective ball with an outer shell, impervious to what comes at us from the outside world – so that nothing, including God’s presence and love, can get in. If it’s true that in the course of life and living we tend to shut out the places and experiences where God might dwell, then it would also seem that sin is not so far away from us as we might have thought. For not to receive or to fail to acknowledge God’s presence is just one small step from ignoring God altogether.
It’s good, every once in a while, for each of us to run headlong into a mountain; to get lost in a forest full of trees, and listen for a voice that might just shake us out of our numbing complacency. Every so often you and I need something real, something physical, something big that’ll rock our world and make us pay attention to God for a change. After all, paying attention is the key, isn’t it? God indeed dwells in every moment of our lives and living – in our joy and our sadness, in tears and laughter, in the events that are powerfully significant and those that seem incredibly mundane. In all things God is there to guide us, to love us, to give us everything we never realized we ever needed; it would be a shame for us not to notice!
With the beginning of June, the summer of 2012 now begins in earnest. And amongst my prayers these days is one that no matter where we happen to find ourselves as these next few weeks unfold, we keep our eyes and our hearts open, so not to “miss the forest for the trees,” and pay attention – for by the power of God’s Spirit in and through our lives, even now we are being given gifts beyond measure!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry