Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Finding God Through the Storm

11 Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.

~ 1 Kings 19:11-12

Do you know what vocational discernment is like? It's like being lost on an abandoned mountain in the desert in the middle of a severe thunderstorm.

Several years ago on a business trip to Arizona, a friend of mine and I finally had the chance to climb Camelback Mountain. We labored our way to the top, hoping to get some decent photographs of the sunset, but, alas, it was a cloudy afternoon, becoming more so as the sun set. Just as we reached the top, the wind picked up and there was a crack of thunder. People began to head down all sides of the mountain on both official and unofficial "trails."  My friend and I took pictures of each other very quickly, and then headed over the side as thunder rumbled again, this time bringing lightning and big fat raindrops.

We realized immediately we were off the trail, found our way back in the waning light before the sun dropped below the horizon leaving us scrambling down the huge boulders in the torrential downpour. The trail was not well marked, and the locals had special shoes (read: proper desert-oriented hiking boots) as well as the sure-footedness of native Arizonans. We were the only people on the mountain, it seemed, and we didn't even know where we were going. There was a couple behind us impatiently scrambling behind our slow progress, and they made nary a remark as my friend and I lumbered off the trail in the darkness of the storm-drenched night.

I remember sliding with a sense of alarm as I realized we were headed for the edge of a cliff. My friend, with more control, climbed lower but when my slide halted at a boulder, I remained where I was.  We both wanted the same thing: to go "home". To get back to the base of the mountain, to join our friends at the hotel and go out for dinner. To survive.  So he focused on going DOWN. I knew people lived on the mountain so wondered if maybe he was right. But....the mountain was deceptive. Were there houses there, or would we become even more lost when we knew we were already off the trail?

One thing I knew: when you are lost, it's not wise to go "exploring". That's probably especially true in places where there are jagged rocks, big cliffs, and scary creatures like tarantulas and rattlesnakes.

I kept looking up, KNOWING the trail was above us. I cringed every time lightning struck the mountain; I used to be terrified of storms. This was nearly my worst nightmare. Going UP wasn't actually something I wanted to do. Still, I knew, somehow, through that little inner voice, that we needed to go back UP to find our way down. We had to fight the idea of descent; to descend when we were lost was death. We had to return to what we knew was true, and then figure out where to go next.

We also knew we needed to stick together.

Finally my friend and I agreed to the basic principles of wilderness survival and scrambled to the point where we had departed the road to salvation (literal!).  I looked around...there there it was:  the cactus standing in start relief on the ridge. I'd noticed it on the way up, for we'd taken a break around that point on the way up. It was a natural marker, a distinct point, and once I saw it, I knew where to go next. I remembered where the trail turned and where it led.

Joyfully I pointed it out to my friend, and we slowly and carefully made our way out of the storm and off the mountain. Tired, a bit scratched up, more than a little scared but...home.

Sometimes God gives us living metaphors

I have often pondered the cactus that so caught my attention as we'd ascended that day, and the seeming coincidence that it was at that very point at which we'd gotten lost when the storm hit and full darkness fell.

It wasn't a coincidence, though. God can't be taken by surprise. He knew we'd get lost so He gave us a marker to help us find our place again. Even though everyone else fled and abandoned us there in the desert, God remained.

For this reason, as terrifying as that ordeal was that night, it is one of my favorite memories. It has become a metaphor for the interior life, and maybe more specifically, my vocational discernment.

God knows us well, and although we may be surprised by our failures and our unplanned or unexpected "detours", He is not. Just as He pointed out a marker to me on that day, so He does for us in our spiritual lives.

One of the ways He has spoken to me over the years, consistently, is through  Psalm 139. Over and over again, I seem to open to this Psalm when I am lost and confused, when I am buffeted about by the winds and the storm and the earthquakes and the fires.  When all around me is in chaos, I can find the whisper of God's voice right there, pointing me to salvation just like the cactus on the ridge.

Sometimes I ponder God's ways, and when I remember being lost on the mountain that night, I think that perhaps our being lost wasn't a mistake, but an event directly intended by God to be a living parable. Sometimes we can't find Him because we don't know where to look, and it is only in wandering off the path that we can look up and see Him directing us down the path to salvation....and perhaps, to our Vocation.

Psalm 139: 1-18, 23-24 

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea's furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast. 

If I say, "Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,"
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day.

For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book'
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

To me, how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
See that I follow not the wrong path
and lead me in the path of life eternal.



Elizabeth Mahlou said...

You have acquired a living parable. What a blessing! (The experience, though, before you saw the cactus, must have been a tad disconcerting/frightening.)

Adoro said...

Elizabeth ~ It was very terrifying, and all I could think of in that rocky ravine was all the tarantulas into whose lair we had probably wandered.That and of course the lightening hitting the mountain.

A couple people die up on Camelback mountain every year. I'm not surprised at all.

Anonymous said...

Once more you have given us wonderful words for meditation and openness to the Holy Trinity.


Fr. Joseph

Iona said...

I always read that psalm before I do an examination of conscience. =)

Anonymous said...

Awesome, dude. Camelback Mountain is one of my favorite places, and one of the things I love about it is that the risk is real. Camelback is a small mountain right in the middle of Phoenix, but it's steep and rugged. You're right that a couple people a year die there, on average, and I'm glad you avoided the cliffs. I found your post quite amusing, though, as one of the locals with "special shoes." (I call them "hiking boots.") My friend, you were never in danger of being lost, since the park isn't all that big and there are houses and major roads on all sides of it. True, you could have fallen off a cliff ... but a lair of tarantulas? Hilarious! I find it fascinating that you found another reason to believe in your god at Camelback, but not that surprising. The place radiates a true feeling of wilderness. I'm happy you had an inspiring adventure there.


Adoro said...

Ray...DUDE! Hope you come back for this response, and next time, call me "Dudette", or something similar, k? :-)

Loved your comment.

I loved Camelback, and a year or so later when I went back to AZ to visit friends, we visited Squaw Peak, now called, what, Piestewa (sp?) Peak? Was a great climb, NOTHING like Camelback, but April vs October...April's climb on the female peak was much prettier.

As far as the "special shoes" go, yes I found that hilarious as well. I'm from MN (my friend was from GA, not sure what they have there) but I didn't bring my hiking boots with me to AZ due to luggage space restrictions. And if you look at marketing, what is marketed there in AZ as "hiking boots" is a bit different than those same types of things marketed here in MN as "hiking boots". So I fell to a PC term, and I apologize...I don't usually "DO" PC and should have just said "Desert Hiking Boots". I really wished I'd had a pair! (of boots, that is)

On the Tarantualas ~ Well...I'm arachnophobic. The funnel-web-weaving midwestern spiders that live outside my door and funnel me into my house if I don't spray a barrier are much smaller and probably more dangerous than a lair of tarantulas, but seriously, to we arachnophobes, that irrationality of the non-existent "lair" transcended the very real danger of meeting a scorpion or even a rattler on Camelback. After all...we were off the trail, at night...their time.

Gosh, I hadn't even considered SCORPIONS!

I'm a realist...they're up there. They're nasty, they're poisonous, and rattlers kill people. Scorpions do if people are allergic. Tarantulas scare people out of outright fear. (BTW...I didn't speak of a "lair", only of knowing they were there...which is true. They live in AZ and are documented on Camelback, a perfect place for the big T's to live)

Anyway, glad you're entertained, even if you don't share my faith in God.

I also have to disagree with you: it IS quite possible to be lost on Camelback. Like any mountain it has ravines and turns and really, Camelback is a bunch of big boulders with a few houses around the base. But if you go off the trail near the top,'re likely to get lost or jump off a cliff trying to find your way to a trail back down.

Do you REALLY disagree with that fact?


Have fun on Camelback, tell that big ol' mountain "HI!" for me, and I really do hope you come back for this comment!

(I love Arizona)

RS said...


Sorry for the long delay. I've been meaning to check back and see if you wrote back. I was in quite a snarky mood when I wrote that, as you can tell -- hopefully it didn't come off as mean, cause I didn't mean to be.

I've hiked Camelback three times so far this month and Piestewa Peak once. I also tried to summit Humphreys Peak near Flagstaff two weeks ago (12,600 feet) but my friend and I were turned back due to steep snowbanks. I love mountains and hiking, though I have my own limits. Some adventures I prefer to experience from my couch -- I just finished Ed Viesturs "K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain." I thought it was great.

I agree that you can get lost at Camelback -- but only in the same way that one could get lost in NYC's Central Park. On the other hand, it's definitely possible that you could be bit by a rattlesnake and die while "lost" far off the main trail. Now, that hasn't happened in the past 25 years, despite a million visitors every year. But it could happen. Scorpions -- I've been stung by a bark scorpion, the most poisonous one in Arizona. It's no big deal unless you're 3 years old, and then it's still okay as long as you get antiserin in a few hours. Some homes out here are infested with them -- I know a woman who woke up once because a bark scorpion was stinging her cheek.

Anyway, come back to Arizona soon. It's great to hear someone say they love it -- ever since the governor passed that darned immigration bill, we hear nothing but bad things being said about our fine state.

Take care.

Adoro said...

Hi Ray, nice to "see" you again.

Oh, yes, I really do hope to come back to AZ especially as I have yet to do some more exploring. Since I was there for work we were very limited in what we could do/see so I still need to get out into the big outdoors. Gotta say, I sorta fell in love with the desert and want to see more of it! :-)