At the end of a day spent sitting at a desk, I hop in the car and drive two short miles to the trailhead. There are rumors of snow on the peaks just above the house where I live at the pass, but I’ve yet to see any evidence as the clouds have enshrouded the high country all day long. Is it curiosity to know the truth, an itch to move instead of sit, or simply the intoxication of scent that wet fir trees offer the trail runner in the thick of autumn? I don’t know the answer; likely all three. All I know is that, as John Muir wrote: “the mountains are calling and I must go”
Muir loved not just being outside, but being outside in weather; storms, wind, snow. He felt that the mountains spoke powerfully during such times, and that the very act of listening would be transformative for him.
“Let the sea roar, and all its creatures, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing aloud together before the Lord; for God comes to judge the earth. The Lord will judge the earth with righteousness and the peoples in justice.” (Psalm 98:7-9)
As soon as I leave the car and turn around I see it; the first snow of the season. The broken clouds have parted long enough to reveal what was hidden, and, just for a moment, I see that what’s been hidden is beautiful. Quickly the clouds cover over the peaks again, as if embarrassed to have been seen naked. For the rest of the run it will be this way: a glimpse of glory, just above me, just out of reach, and then hidden again. Another peek, with promising hope that this time the skies will truly part, and clear. Poof! Gone again.
The mountains and sky are toying with me, and I keep running up the trail, higher, higher, in search of clarity, until the darkness overtakes and all hope of seeing is gone, at least until morning. Then, armed with headlamp and iphone as torches, a retreat to the car over stones, streams, steps, and roots. The darkness is thick by the time I’m back at the car and make my way home to aromas of onions and the warmth of a fire and I ponder that the run was good, not just for my body, but for my spirit too.
The clouds of war, torture, economic injustice and racism are all around us these days. It’s a fog, born of greed and lust for power, laced with violence. Though thick, the fog isn’t new, having been with us from the beginning of the tragedy and beauty that is our story. And yet, always, the clouds have parted. Yes, there was Auschwitz, and stories that nobody believed because darkness couldn’t be that dark. But when the clouds parted there was Sophie Scholl, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, courageous resistance work and prayer meetings. Yes there was apartheid. But light broke through. His name was Mandela. Yes, there was genocide, but there’s been a reconciliation movement in which the brightness of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation wash over the past like first snow.
As the clouds of Isis, school shootings, human trafficking, and a refugee crisis that will change Europe forever, it’s vital to remember what kind of world exists, already, because of what Christ did on the cross. When he said, “it’s finished” he didn’t just mean that he was finished breathing, he meant that the destiny of history as a place of death and despair was over. Isaiah foretold it:
These are the Colors of Hope – the Colors of the Kingdom of God; and the glad news is that this kingdom always breaks through to refresh and restore. What’s more, each moment of refreshment is a hint of how the story ends, where eternity’s headed.
As Christ-followers, it’s no good being glum, down in the mouth, and cynical about politicians, systems, and economies. That doesn’t do much good for anyone. On the other hand, those who believe that behind the clouds there’s a glory, become people who point the way. They encourage people to make snow right where they are, to cover sadness and failure, shame and greed, fear and addiction – cover it all with the freedom found in Christ.
It starts, of course, with believing that there’s something hopeful there, behind the fog. But it requires more than that – it requires a commitment to embody that hope and, like John Muir, get people out there into the wild places where hope is visible so that they can see it for themselves.
And all of this, of course, requires that we keep showing up. Dozens of times I’ve brought people to places in the wild in hopes of showing them the view, only to have it shrouded in fog. “Come back tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that” I’ll say, “and you’ll see it for sure!” Likewise, I’m always on the lookout for Christ’s hope, in the generosity of a friend, in a community surrounding a beloved during their time of death, in the birth of a new child, in the remarkable signs of peace that the news never shows.
We need to keep showing up and keep looking. When we do, sometimes the clouds part and we found hope, which means we can become hope, which means clarity, blessing, joy – not just for ourselves, but others too.
That hope, more than for the health of my heart, is why I run in the mountains.