Tarry On the Boulders

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Sometimes in May, a little warm snap will grip the mountains of the Colorado high country. In their excitement they shed their snow like white mink coats – all at once and fast. Piles and piles come sliding down the canyon, melting into the valleys. There, the water collides with itself, in such a hasty and reckless tumult, it rearranges the boulders all down the river.

To the rare listener, it sounds like muffled bone crushing, powerful and unseen, like centuries of things starting and stopping. The boulders move because they have to, forced by the will of the water.

Change is the river’s only constant.

Making Hay 2010 100

But as spring turns to summer, the big water slows and slips quietly into New Mexico, unnoticed by anyone but a few fishermen tying their flies. Finally the boulders rest, their mottled grey backs rise steadily as the water drifts south.

Queen Anne’s Lace loves the river too, so she hangs around all summer with the Prince Gentians, the last of all wildflowers. Her slender green arms reach over the river; lacy, white fingers graze the last of the snow pack as it slips by.

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

This is a thing worth seeing, but I won’t unless I go and tarry on the boulders. If I will sit and wait, the magic will struggle up through the piles of ordinary, and I will see what was buried all along.

Ordinary is an illusion everywhere.

It was on this very river, on some long departed boulder, that I first understood Romans 1:20. I memorized it with my feet in the water.

For ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature and attributes, that is, his eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (his handiwork). So men are without excuse, altogether without any defense or justification. Romans 1:20 AMP

This is no joke. These mountains, this boulder, this ache in my soul are the signature of The Ancient of Days. They are the voice of the Infinite Omniscient saying:

You hear me best in stillness and light, but I am everywhere. You can’t grab the water or capture its sparkles in a jar. There is only now. I am here, and I am willing to overwhelm you.

This is the pain of an unseen God. The yearning is real, but the trust is hard.

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So we seek transcendence everywhere else. We chase it, try to buy it, swallow it, fall in love with it, convince ourselves we’ve got it and give it proud names. But the mountains know things we’ve forgotten, or maybe we never knew.

God is alive and we are eternally without excuse.

That is the hope and heartbreak of Romans 1:20. We can glimpse God’s eternal power and divinity, in a thousand year old river whose stones will cry out if we don’t.

But only for a second.

The hope is: What we see now, in glimmers and through aperture of memory, we will someday see in full. The mountains and rivers promise.May 2009 115

So go outside tonight. Watch the Perseid meteor shower. Sit still and let the creation remind you of things you already know, and perhaps let it introduce you to the one who knows you.

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Thoughts From the Ranch.

There’s a place on the ranch I’ve photographed more times than I can ever count. This is it.

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I lived here for six years and watched the seasons change that field like the Lord expects us to change – from glory to glory in ever increasing measure. But even now, every time I try to capture it, to own it by putting it in words or photographs, it slips through my hands and breaks my heart with yearning.

When it comes to me and the ranch, the only thing I can have is the moment we inhabit together and that, I think, is exactly how it is with God.

There is only now.

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But as ever, Ike is down the road on his backhoe and the neighbors are sipping cocktails. The bald eagles fish from the snag, and the sun outside Dodo’s warms the pines just like it has for the last hundred summers.

When the sun hits their ruddy, old bark, their fragrance is so subtle and fine, it’s almost hard to take, but if I stop to breathe it in, to capture it, it fades. The only way I get to smell it again is to walk slowly and appreciatively through the pine groves breathing normally and saying thank you.

The Psalmist says, in his presence is the fullness of joy. He didn’t say I could capture it like fireflies in a jar to save for later.

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The word of God and the mountains have helped me understand something I never did before:

You and I are just as much part of this creation as the peaks, the meadow grass and the rainbow trout with their dusky pink sides, but we’re the deeply beloved part that He made in his image. We forget that all the time, and maybe that’s why we snap so many pictures, and write so many words. It’s like we’re trying to remember something the daisies and the dragonflies never forgot.

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We are His, and each time the sunset drops a pink coverlet over the mountains, he is calling us back into the fullness of joy. His joy, right now, where he wanted all of us, all along.

On Heaven and Earth In Congo.

Oubangui RiverDuring dry season in Impfondo, Congo, the Oubangui River narrows and slows. Miles of wide sand beaches surface like beige river monsters, shimmery and hot, until the river interrupts them.

If the barge docks don’t lie, the river will rise thirty feet when the rains come, but for now it’s quiet with women schussing barefoot along the river carrying cassava on their heads and babies on their backs.

If you’re a doctor at Pioneer Christian Hospital, and not busy dispensing ARVs or convincing beautiful black women who’ve destroyed their skin with lightening creams not to split for the witch doctor, you can grab your family and trot down the cliffs to the miles of open sand. There, new and old friends are waiting.image

Tonight it’s a little cold to swim, so we camp out on an old tarp left behind by the UN. We eat avocado and pineapple sandwiches and salty peanuts and real American brownies somebody made with the last of their propane. Blond haired missionary kids, who were born in country and speak Lingala like the natives they are, do backflips in the river with their friends.

Soon, stars belonging to both North and South begin dancing over the equator, as if one hemisphere’s stars are not enough. And because moon is late, the Milky Way emerges like pixie dust.

It’s here your cup might overflow and drown you.

Jesus himself said “I came so you might have and enjoy your life and have it in abundance until it overflows.” John 10:10.

This gathering, this river, this space, these stars feel so abundant it is hard to contain it – something Jesus also promised – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. Luke 6:38.

That kind of abundance exists for those willing to submit all of it to Jesus and let him decide where the abundance is found. But who would have thought? Here Lord? The Republic of Congo? In my wildest imagination, I never saw this coming.

Walking home across the river dunes, Orion’s Belt up ahead and the Southern Cross at our backs, we wind up back at the mission, – the beating heart of Pioneer Christian Hospital. And because this is Africa, the Land Cruiser keys are missing or it won’t start or somebody needs a ride but they disappeared, so we wait.

Photo Credit: Nat Geo

Photo Credit: Nat Geo

And that’s lucky because standing deep in the shadows as the bats squeal in the mango trees, the fireflies appear, lighting up the wet grass with fleeting little sparkles.

And it doesn’t matter where you look, over your head or under your feet, the world just shines, and it’s tempting to drop to your knees and weep. For this one small moment, it is as He prayed…

On earth as it is in heaven.