Mountaintops and Canyons

Even as a flatlander from the Mississippi and Brazos river deltas, I've been fortunate enough to have enjoyed a few mountaintop experiences in the Rockies of New Mexico and Colorado, the Appalachians of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and at the pinnacle of a volcano in Hawaii. I clearly remember what it was like to stand on top of each of these mountains, and none of them was remotely like being at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp.

For most of my life, I've heard of spiritual awakenings described as mountaintop experiences. We slowly climb away from the mundane world of our everyday life as we make our way to the top. On the way, we leave behind our fears which have led us to anger, frustration and shame. We're no longer the egotistical cause or the hapless victim of our suffering as we stand on the mountain.

The only problem with this metaphor is that, in climbing the mountain, we leave everyone else behind--the crazy neighbor, the addicted friend, the co-worker who's awkward and inappropriate, the homeless at the stop light, the democrat/republican, the religious fundamentalist. Their suffering continues, unfazed by our personal pilgrimage to the mountaintop of spiritual enlightenment. We'll re-connect with them when we return...unfortunately.

Perhaps a better metaphor for a spiritual awakening is a journey downward into a huge canyon. Instead of transcending the suffering of everyone, we descend into it. We tenderly embrace it. Maybe we have to inch our way down as we explore their path of pain and insecurity, trying not to push it away as we go further and further down. Eventually, we may become aware of others walking with us--our companions in the reality of pain which we call life. They're the same folks we left behind on our mountaintop ascension, but now we realize our connectedness. In fact, they are us.

The Dali Lama likes to describe 2 kinds of people. They're both selfish, but one is wise and one is unwise. The unwise think only of themselves, and the results are pain and confusion. The wise realize that the best help for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy. Jesus taught and lived a message of losing our lives to gain life, and his life was the best example of descending into a canyon.

At the bottom on the canyon, we discover a great river of clear, healing water where we can all be cleansed. It's there, right at the depth of our descent that we discover a love that can never die.