Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Up on the Mountain

I woke up on the wrong side of my soul the other day. The very fact of existence felt like a shirt that didn't fit and rubbed me sore and stiff with each attempt I made at tranquility. In search of something, anything, to restore balance to my beleaguered spirit, I left the house intent on a morning at my favorite little Orthodox coffee shop with the chant and cool and chai I love. Twenty frustrated minutes later, I realized that my wallet had accidentally left the house with my mother and would not be back till noon. Any rescue attempts would, I felt, be futile, seeing as I could not manage its retrieval without invading the Bible study to which it and my mother had taken themselves and I was feeling extremely shy (anti-social behavior being my common reaction in times of spiritual flummoxment). By the time I thought this all through, another twenty minutes had expired and with it, the window of time in which I could begin a major downtown jaunt. I felt like collapsing on the floor like a two year old and seeing if God would notice if I threw a fit.

For some strange reason, I didn't. (Probably because I realized no one would notice anyway, and if God did, I wouldn't know it, him being usually invisible and all that.) Instead, nudged by a blind, but fortuitous instinct, I jumped in my car and decided the first order of business was just to get coffee. Good coffee. When I had that in hand I began to drive. Not up or down the highway but just across the road, up into the ruby-rocked foothills where I spent three golden years of my youth. The unfettered joy I knew in the old mountain life drew me with the memory of its comfort, it's sunny freedom, it's sure beauty.

I drove straight for the highest point, where footpaths snake deep into the forests that climb the ridge. The trails were all still closed off for fear of fire, but I parked my car in a dusty old pull-off where the locals park before long hikes. Down went my windows, back went my seat. I parked at just the right angle to see the hulk of the foothills that marked the boundaries of my childhood - the wonderland that I could see and dream into from my fort on the hill behind my old house. All was still. Birds chattered. Cool, silent air flowed in over my flushed skin. The daily rainstorm sent proud white scouts through the high blue of the morning sky. A sparrow slit the air. Shadows slunk down the mountain's face and the ghost of the moon hovered just beyond the tallest peak. My pulse slowed, my eyes stilled. For an instant, I thought my equilibrium had returned.

But it didn't. I would like to say that my soul was restored, that God nudged my spirit and I flared up in a new blaze of hope and diligence, spurred by the beauty of nature. That would be nice. But untrue. Instead, I must admit that amidst a luminous instant or two of joy in the sheer fact of nature's great silence, my mind wandered. I saw the birds, felt the air, and then was back to my worry, stuck again in my scheming. Existence still felt like a too-scratchy sweater and my pulse kicked into high gear once more.

And yet, I did learn one thing. I relearned how to sit in silence with my troubles and my fear. How to accept a moment of hush in which my soul is ill at ease and not instantly dull it with distraction. The longer I waited up there on the mountain, the longer I sat with my complaints as if round a campfire, tossing stories back and forth, the more I knew what was really wrong. The better I knew how to pray. The deeper went my cry to God. There was no solution or swift redemption for me that day, but there was a calm that came into my mind, joining the odd fellowship of my soul and its troubles.

Such quiet amidst trouble is rare for me. Adulthood has brought a plethora of distractions that keep me from ever having to really face my fears. Internet especially has become a replacement for prayer in my life. When I was younger and encountered times of loneliness or fear, I would sit in my chair and tell God all I thought. I'd open my Bible and scan the Psalms until I found a word to hearten me and put courage back in my bones. Now, I flip open my computer and scan facebook until some meme strikes my funny bone and shoves my worry into the background. Now, a phone call, a text, a mindless troll through my feed reader becomes my replacement for prayer in moments of deepest need.

There is no margin in the uproar of my constantly active mind, for the still, hushed voice of God. Yet that is the only balm that can heal the aching of my soul. Only a voice from beyond the hum of my troubled thoughts, a peace beyond these realms of half-understanding can bring the help I need. As I sat up there on the mountain in fellowship with my woes,  a strange calm rising up the shores of my soul, I thought of Jesus. "And early in the morning, before it was yet light, he went to the mountain to pray." In darkness, in silence, when only the whisper of the Holy Spirit was stirring in the wind, Jesus listened. And ached. And found the strength to go on healing, loving, helping for another day. For it is only in quiet that we may listen for the echoes of the eternal, meet the great, warm, hush of God, hear hope echoing down into our darkness.

I learned that again on the mountain. And as I turned to go, a last, golden little bird zipped by my window. A dash of hope slit the shadows in my heart.