We’d been hiking for a little while. Up 1000 meters, and then down 1000. Up another 1000, and then down again. Then up one more time, and down half way to our final night at a hut. The huts are the Alpine alternative to backpacking. Instead of carrying everything with you, all you need is fresh underwear, a little soap and toothpaste, and a sheet. The hut provides you with a bed, pillow, blanket, your beverage of choice, and a meal, all for around 50 Euro for the two of us. Of course, the place comes with views that are unmatched by any Hilton, Sheraton, or Comfort Inn anywhere in the world.
We wake the last morning of our Alpine adventure and begin our hike out, down, and down, and down, all the way to Schaldming, which is where I teach in December most years. The valley, now seen in summer light, is stunning, filled with ever changing scenery as we make our way to lower, thicker air. About 1/3 of the way down, we come into a small opening where the trail crosses the stream. Right at the crossing there’s a tiny cabin, a barn, and a garden. I stop and stare because at that moment, I feel as if I’ve walked into perfection. To say, “You had to be there” is an understatement, because the moment was made of everything: the generosity of the church that enabled us to enjoy this trip, the companionship of my best friend and only wife, the gift of health to enjoy it all, the waterfall and high alps behind me, the lush valley opening before me, the sound of the stream, and the feel of the clear water on my toes, and this piece of heaven, this cabin of perfection right in the midst of it all.
Tears fill my eyes as I realize that this is my own version of CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. This is my glimpse of eternity. This is God’s invitation, God’s reminder that His creation, at its best, brings perfect joy, and offers a window through which we can peak at eternity.
Yes, there are horrific injustices in the world, and it’s strange to ponder that I’m standing in the midst of perfection while my youngest child is walking through the genocide museum in Rwanda. Yes, there is violence, degradation, and the marks of our collective inability to run the show, and the marks are everywhere to be seen. These blood stains, though, are a shabby excuse for unbelief. Those who shake their fist at the god they don’t believe in are terribly selective in their perceptions. They see the crusades, but not the courage. They see the injustice, but not the sacrifice. They see the ugliness, but not the beauty.
As for me, as I approached this glorious patch of holy ground, I had this sense of knowing – “Knowing” that “all manner of things shall be well,” that in spite of all humanity has done to be unfaithful, God’s relentless faithfulness will, in the end, prevail. He’ll restore it all, until the whole is shot through with glory.
And there’s more. In that moment, in that space by the cabin, all temptations, all the trinkets of this world that often seduce us seemed like a pile of dung. Greed, lust, fear, shame, bitterness…all of them were so unbecoming, so incongruous to the perfection of the place. Who could hold onto sin in the midst of such light?
CS Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy is his autobiography and testimony. He was surprised because he wasn’t expecting it. Though I don’t go looking for these moments of perfection, I’m not surprised by them anymore. I’m old enough to believe that, when our hearts are even vaguely in pursuit of companionship with our creator, our senses are attuned to his glory and revelation. When that happens, God breaks through, sometimes in oddest moments, like walking Aurora with a friend from the Commons in Seattle – at other times, in the midst of our deepest loves which, in my case, means the mountains.
Lord of all creation;
Bless you for calling out to us, through the many waters, the mountains, the humble shelters, the hospitality of strangers, the shared humanity that transcends languages. Thank you for breaking through, inviting us towards eternity, imparting hope and in so doing, exorcising our doubts and weariness. The glimpses of glory are our bread for the journey. May we so attune our hearts to hear your voice, to see your light, that we are fed by what you give us, this day and every day.
Where do you find glimpses of hope and eternity?