I spent the past couple days backpacking with a friend in the Pemigewassett Wilderness of New Hampshire. It was an expedition I had wanted to do for some time, both because I had never done an overnight backpacking trip before, and because I had heard spectacular reviews of this particular route (the Pemi Loop, for those who need to know. =)
It is hard to express the absolute delight that these trips above the treeline always give me. In all honesty, a good portion of the enjoyment seems to arrive after the fact, because during the actual hike, black flies, chafing pack straps, sore toes, and intermittent sensations of exhaustion, hopelessness, and doubts of one’s sanity, tend to scream louder than the more delicate elements of pleasure. But now, sitting at home, showered and rehydrated, with only miscellaneous aches and sore spots to remind me of the physical exertion, I keep marveling at the sheer privilege that is mine.
There were so many individual things that thrilled me on that hike—the fluorescent green of moss and ferns lying in dappled sunlight on the forest floor, the spectacular rollicking laugh—or was it the theme of a Bach fugue?—performed by winter wrens, the captivating scent that wafted from the alpine scrub along the path under the influence of the warm sunlight. And of course, there were the funny, unceremonious toads that scrambled to get away from the trail, the different species of lichen on the rocks, and the bubbling springs that gushed, clear and cold, from the mountainside to refresh weary hikers. Encompassing all these beauties were the grand mountains themselves, with their bold cliffs encrusting the headwalls of dramatic ravines, the ancient rockslides, the indescribable vastness of space stretching above, below, and to either side of the trail.
“What a privilege!” I found myself thinking, over and over, day after day, as we hiked. What a privilege to have eyes to see all this, ears to hear, a nose to smell, skin to feel the sunshine and fresh wind, and yes, feet to carry me across mile after difficult mile. When you are hiking in a lonely place, it is easy to believe again that God created this world to be “very good,” and that all His ways are still “very good.” Wherever there is a lower concentration of humans, there is a lower concentration of sin and its deathly consequences, and all the glorious creation is freer to burst forth in fuller beauty, betraying God’s delight in His handiwork by its sheer unbridled magnificence.
The wonder continued even after the hike itself was over. “What a privilege!” I thought, as I drove home ward through Franconia Notch, and saw the mountains again, or rather, saw the bases of the mountains whose summits were now swathed in cloud, as though they were too grand for mere mortals to look upon. I nearly cried with awe and gratitude as I saw those vast slopes, and especially as my gaze traced the routes of past hikes. There are millions of people who drive through the Notch every year, and comment, “Very beautiful indeed,” but to them, the beauty is like that of a painting on a wall—merely aesthetic, not experiential. For the vast majority, their appreciation will never extend beyond that level, either because they cannot physically climb a mountain, or because they have never been given a great enough incentive to pay the price in sweat and bug bites and blisters. But me? For these years at least, God has loaned me a body that’s capable of climbing (something I was never entitled to and which He is not obligated to give me tomorrow)—and He’s given me more than adequate incentive, too.
Because up there, I’ve discovered far more than sweeping vistas and delicate alpine flowers. I’ve discovered a God Who puts three different shades of blue into one scene—the brilliant blue of the sky, the indefinable misty blue of the mountains themselves, and the deep, mysterious blue-black of a far-away lake on the valley floor. He’s the God who bothered to make intricate flower blossoms scarcely a quarter inch in diameter, growing in a crack of some rock where likely only He will ever see them. He’s the kind of God who keeps track of the flitting of some little bird with a song so complicated that you could only decipher it in slow motion. He’s the kind of God who puts a mountain range in front of you so vast that it seems thoroughly inaccessible, and then shows you, many long miles later, how you came across it after all, just by putting one foot in front of the other.
As I drove through that notch on the way home, trying to drink in the beauty of the mountains and stay on the road at the same time, a song was playing on my mp3 player,
“There were haystacks in His palace,
In a manger was His throne…”
I looked again at the mountains, and tried to fit the two things together—God who made the mountains, God incarnate as a Baby in a manger?
And again I thought, “What a privilege!” To know this God, not aesthetically as a picture on a Christmas card, but experientially, brought to share in His divine life because He became a man, living this human life with its sweat and blisters and sorrow, and all so that He could die for my sin and bring me near to enjoy His love.
And that’s just what I’ve been doing these past few days. Enjoying His love in the form of mountain wind and sunshine, birdsong and gushing streams, thrilling peeps over precipices, and silent symphonies performed by the starry heavens. But most of all, I’ve been enjoying that love through the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, displayed not by creation, but in the face of Jesus Christ. And that is a beauty worth experiencing, a privilege worth accepting, no matter what the cost!