KOH2RVA: Day 208

big fishI’m back! Back from Graves Mountain Lodge near Shenandoah National Park where I helped to lead a national retreat for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship called “Practicing Resurrection.”

The title is from a poem by Wendell Berry called, “Manifesto: the Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” The closing lines are these:

As soon as the general and the politicos
Can predict the motions of your mind,
Lose it. Leave it as a sign
To mark the false trail, the way
You didn’t go. Be like the fox
Who makes more tracks than necessary,
Some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

I started with the premise that the resurrection life is life at its fullest, and suggested that when we are living life at its fullest our senses are fully engaged. I asked the retreat participants to test that hypothesis during the time we were in the mountains, and to keep records of their sensory experience.

So, we had reports on what it is like to taste apple juice in the morning as if it were a fine wine—inhaling the aroma, swirling it around in the mouth, tasting it on the tongue. A report on what it’s like to hold the rainbow trout you just pulled from a mountain stream, looking at its beautiful colors and feeling the weight of its wet muscle in your hands. A report on what it’s like to struggle to the top of Old Rag Mountain the hard way—on the boulder-strewn Ridge Trail—and be rewarded with the 360-degree view from the top: Virginia spreading out in every direction like a quilt your great-great-great-great-grandmother made.

It was a wonderful retreat. We lived life at its fullest. Our senses were fully engaged. But can I tell you how glad I was to get home to Richmond on Thursday afternoon, and how eager I am to embrace again this city that I love, this place where I live?

I’m not sure how heaven will come to earth today, or how I might help, but I think I will recognize it when it happens. Heaven has come near to me in the last few days. I’ve seen it in the distance, heard its whispers, touched its edges, tasted its flavors and smelled its fragrances.

May it come near to you today, and may you have a part in bringing it near for others.

Buenos Dias!

I’m back from two weeks in Mexico, and, as promised, there are stories to tell:

I started my adventures in Puerto Escondido, a little town on the Pacific coast of Mexico popular with surfers for its enormous waves.  I didn’t go there to surf: I went because my brother-in-law, Chuck Treadwell, was celebrating his fiftieth birthday and invited me to come along.  We stayed in a beautiful house near the beach which was available partly because Chuck has some very generous friends but partly because it is so hot in Puerto Escondido in May that no one in his right mind would go there. 

Need I say more?

We tried to make the best of it, however, and in one three-day period I caught a 70-pound sailfish, got up on a surfboard, and went swimming with the dolphins.  In the interest of full disclosure I should probably say that I “helped” catch a 70-pound sailfish: the first mate on the boat actually set the hook, Chuck and his friend Patrick McCoy spent about thirty minutes fighting the fish, and then they let me reel it in toward the boat where the first mate brought it aboard.  And when I say I “got up” on a wave I mean that I was able to get to my feet on a ten-foot board (the surfing equivalent of training wheels) at Carrizilillo Beach (the Puerto Escondido equivalent of a baby pool).  And, finally, when I say that I went “swimming with the dolphins” I mean that I put on a life jacket and jumped into the water in a part of the ocean where we had just seen some dolphins.  I swam, and there were dolphins in the same ocean, but to say that I swam with the dolphins is a bit of an overstatement. 

Just like saying I climbed a 17,000-foot mountain.

I went from Puerto Escondido to my brother Ed’s house near Cuernavaca.  Ed is a missionary there.  He and his family have been living and working in Mexico for eight years, mostly developing a Christian camp where he hopes to reach 10,000 Mexican youth for Christ.  When I got there it was nearing the end of the dry season, and most of Mexico was parched and brown.   And hot.  Did I mention that it was hot? 

Ed’s characteristic solution was to try climbing to the top of a 17.000-foot mountain, a dormant volcano called Iztaccihuatl (which I won’t even try to pronounce).  He promised that it would be cooler up there than it was in Cuernavaca.  In fact, he had asked me to bring along all the winter clothing I could stuff into a backpack so we could stay warm during the climb. 

We took along two of his sons and two of their friends and made our base camp at 12,000 feet.  We spent the whole next day getting acclimated to the altitude (and the delightfully cool temperatures) before starting our assault on the mountain at 3:00 the next morning.  I went up with the first party—three of us, sporting head lamps to cut through the darkness.  We got to 15,000 feet just as the sun was coming up and spent the next four hours gasping for air and clawing our way up to the summit only to discover that there was another, higher, summit about a half mile away.  We hiked down into the notch and up the other side, using the last of our strength to get to that summit only to discover that there was yet another, higher, summit about a mile away from that one, and it was on the other side of a half-mile-wide glacier.  We sat there for a while, catching our breath and watching as another group of climbers made its way across.  As we were watching one climber slipped and fell and started sliding downhill toward a rocky ravine before stopping himself with an ice axe.  Since we didn’t have ice axes (and honestly, if there had been an elevator to the summit at that point I’m not sure I would have had the strength to push the button), we decided to call it a day.  Our elevation at that point was 16,800 feet, about 300 feet shy of the highest point.  We were disappointed, but not defeated, and on the way down began to talk about coming back again someday with the proper equipment.

The rest of the week was less adventurous but deeply meaningful as I learned more about the good work Ed is doing there at El Monte (the name of his camp).  I heard reports from Mexican missionaries, who are being trained to go to places like Germany and Indonesia with the good news about Jesus.  I saw Ed’s plans for adding additional cabins and another soccer field to the camp, to make it even more inviting for the kids who will come there.  And I did some sightseeing in the little town of Ticuman, where a generous farmer gave us a complimentary bunch of bananas (see photo above).  I picked up enough Spanish along the way to negotiate the taxis and buses necessary to get back to the airport, and at 9:35 last night I touched down in Richmond.  It felt so good to come home, and to unlock the front door, and crank up the air conditioning. 

There are some things I’m not going to take for granted anymore.

We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob's LadderOn Thursday of last week, my friend Joe Perez and I were hiking up Bear Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  It’s a beautiful hike, but the trail ascends almost vertically for 2,500 feet.  On the way up I caught myself singing that old spiritual, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder.”  It’s got the perfect rhythm for a hike like that—slow and plodding—and the line about “every round goes higher, higher” is not only descriptive, it’s encouraging. 

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

Every round goes higher, higher,
Every round goes higher, higher,
Every round goes higher, higher,
Soldiers of the cross.

I sang that much without any trouble, but then realized I didn’t know the next verse.  It was something about “Sinner do you _____ my Jesus,” but was it “love my Jesus” or “know my Jesus”?  I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter, so I began to sing, “Sinner do you know my Jesus,” and then I followed it with, “If you know him why not trust him,” and then, “If you trust him why not serve him.”  I found out later that those aren’t the real lyrics, but as I sang them I thought about how the Christian faith progresses from one level to the next.  You don’t begin by serving Jesus, you begin by hearing something about him.  If you hear enough you might get to know him, and if you get to know him you might begin to trust him.  

The Christian life goes on and on like that if we are faithful about it; every round goes higher, higher.  If we keep on climbing Jacob’s Ladder one day we will get to the top of it, and the view, like my view from the top of Hunter Peak that day, will be breathtaking.