Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lessons from Chimney Rock

This past weekend Jeff and I drove to Santa Fe, which translates as the city of "holy faith"  for business, and pleasure, but quite unexpectedly...for many holy moments.    I returned inspired, refreshed....or as one hymn says "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven".   There were so many instances where God's voice broke through uncertainty, confusion, pain and fear.  Musings on these experiences may find their way to this blog over the next few weeks...or they may just rest in sacred stillness in my heart...we'll see.  One experience begs to be, here goes...

Saturday afternoon, following a very challenging "up all night" in prayer and a holy morning on our knees, a window opened that we were happy to discover held the unexpected promise of a drive with friends to Georgia O'Keefe's "Ghost Ranch".  Twenty-one thousand acres of arroyo, canyons, buttes, river beds, trails and the most amazing stone outcroppings I have ever seen in one place.  Now owned by the Presbyterian church and home to the Ghost Ranch conference and retreat center, this sacred space evokes deep contemplation and stillness the minute you drive through the gate, and is open for the public to enjoy.

We arrived mid afternoon on one of the most glorious southwest days imaginable.  Deep blue skies with high puffy clouds hovered over pastures and arroyo.  The sunlight was bright without turning the cool air hot.  We grabbed bottles of water, baseball caps and headed for the trailhead that would take us up another 700 feet above sea level, on an hour and a half climb to "Chimney Rock"  a parapet that stands like an oracle watching over the thousands of acres of scrub and pinion-covered hills golden with chemisa in bloom and cottonwoods just beginning to turn yellow in the late September air...russet and ivory cliffs, red sandstone buttes,  while ravens floating on a thermal, called to us from above. 

As we searched for the trailhead at the base I was struck by how grateful we became when a signpost, marking a dusty, well-worn footpath was sighted across a small parking lot.  Something in me said, "be conscious of the signposts"....hmm I thought, "this looks like a pretty straightforward trail...can't imagine we will need markers"...but I have long-learned to listen to those inner I did.  As we climbed towards Chimney Rock on a trail that wound through a canyon so dramatic it almost took my breath away,  I was reminded  of how powerfully,  something so soft as water, could  carve a canyon out of rock... a place so stark with deeply gorged granite walls that it felt like a living temple.  With arresting beauty in my periphery I caught the delicate loveliness of tiny asters and Indian paintbrush.  Because our friend, Nancy, is an artist whose paintings often include images of clouds that could only be found in the expanse of a western sky, I think we were all aware of the changing cloud formations and the way they cast shadows and altered the light on the landscape that expanded in front of us as we climbed higher and higher toward the top of the narrow mesa in the sky abutting Chimney Rock.

All along the trail there were markers.  Starting with the number #1 carved into the small wooden signpost and ending with #20 at the top we were pointed in the right direction each time the trail became obscure or the path seemed to have a few options but only one would be the "right one" in the end... and often the others led to areas where the footing was less secure and more treacherous.  At one point even though the wooden marker, at the head of a particularly uncertain climb, was clear, the precise path was not and earlier travelers had placed pyramids, or small piles of stones, called cairns, to make the safest possible footing clear to future climbers. 

This was all so interesting to me in light of what thought-leader and spiritual pioneer Mary Baker Eddy has to say about Love "marking the way" in our spiritual journeying.  I pondered the kindness of strangers in carefully arranging these cairns, the care of ranch personnel in providing the trail markers, I was inspired,  but hadn't yet felt the significant "power of the Word" message in God's asking me to be conscious of the signposts. 

Our arrival at the top of the butte... we would traverse in order to reach the edge of the mesa... that was closest to the parapet called "Chimney Rock, was glorious.  The late afternoon sun, through the darting and chasing of clouds in the endless sky, made the valley below us come alive with shifting shades of color and shadow as evening approached.  We stood high above this vista in sacred awe, as long as we could, before realizing that we needed to head down before the sun set even further and our light shirts and jackets would not give much comfort when the night air became cooler. 

Retraversing the top of the mesa, each couple was lost in conversation as we started down what appeared to be a natural trail and which disappeared at the edge of a precipice.  Hmm...where was the
real trail.  My husband headed off in one direction and our friends in another, when the thought came to me, "Were you aware of the signposts?"  Well, yes I thought, and the last one was at the top of the trail as we crested the edge of the mesa. 

"Then return to the last signpost" the thought came.  Well, I knew where the top of the mesa was, I knew it was
up and the sky above us made it clear which direction that was...we had just come down from there.  So I started back up the 50 feet to return to where I last saw a signpost.  Once I reached the top I walked towards the end of the butte we had come from earlier and there on my right was the trailmarker with the #20 and the words "back to the ranch".  I called out to my fellow hikers and once we all started from the right starting point we were soon back to the base of the trail, sitting on the grassy lawn in front of the visitors center...content, peace-filled and hungry.  

Now this may seem like a pretty uneventful afternoon, but for me it was such a profound spiritual reminder.  First, to look for the waymarks that have been left by other spiritual travelers....Moses, Jesus, Mary Baker Eddy, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Aunt Marge, your grandmother, mom, sister, friend.  Secondly, if you know where the last successful waymark was, you can go back there and start from a secure starting point.  For me this often is a statement from the Bible or Science and Health that has proven arresting or transformative, comforting or fear-abating.  One of my favorites is from Science and Health and says, "The starting point of divine Science (which Mary Baker Eddy defines as "God's government of the universe, inclusive of man") is that God, Spirit is All-in-all and there is no other might nor Mind".  This statement for me is like being reminded to climb back up to the top of the mesa where the view is unobstructed and clear and start from there. 

When I have my footing securely placed on God being All-in-all...not All of His goodness, grace, understanding, abundance in some...or some of it in all...but All-in-all... my footsteps are strong and I climb with grace.  My path, though it is often not without what may seem like loose rock or treacherous precipices, is clear and I move forward knowing that I am on the right trail, I can be certain that if I follow those waymarks I will reach my destination....a new vantage point that looks up at sky and out at the walls of the canyons and stands in awe of God's power and grace.

As we headed out of that canyon on Saturday I closed my eyes and thanked God for Her gifts...for showing me the power of Principle in the extraordinary balance between sky, earth and water to carve out beauty and majesty from rock, the strength of tenderness in the resilience of a tiny mountain flower that is buffeted by the night cold of the desert and the searing heat of the day and still seeks out each drop of water with perserverence un-paralleled and reaches her toes through the rock and sand to find a drop of moisture in the middle of a desert drought.  I was humbled by the power of the wind to cause an ancient pine to grow at twisted angles over the course of centuries and the grace of a sandstone wall in surrendering herself to the Artist's loving hand as raging mountain streams carve new lines of wisdom in her face.

I will never forget our hike to Chimney Rock.  I can see why Georgia O'Keefe chose this valley to inspire the beauty we all see, and value, in her work.  God's hand is so clearly seen in this place of rich texture, form, outline and color...and on Saturday Her voice was clearly heard. Thank you, Georgia, for the invitation, through your work, to want to explore your 21,000 acre studio under the vast Mew Mexico sky.   


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