Thursday, September 28, 2006
A Peace that Can't be Shattered by Gunmen or Fear
In April of 1999 two young gunmen entered Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado and opened fire on their classmates. On the immediate heels of this tragedy I had the privilege of joining scores of fellow pastors, psychologists, counselors and health care professional as we gathered to provide counseling and support services to students, parents, families, teachers and staff over the ensuing weeks of shock, grieving, healing, and recovery. When I read of the shooting at Platte Canyon High School this morning, I was reminded of my drive to Columbine that April afternoon and couldn't help but think of the drive parents made to that high school yesterday afternoon to connect with their children..fighting the terror with hearts full of hope.
Hwy 285 in Bailey Colorado has always been my favorite stretch of road anywhere in the world. It lies between my sister's house in Evergreen and my summer home at the Adventure Unlimited Ranches in Buena Vista and sits at the bend of the road just before the sweet mountain village of Shawnee. I have often stopped by the river to pray and connect more deeply with God before finishing the last leg of my trip to camp where I will be on call 24/7 for weeks in caring for teens who will be at camp each summer. It is a deeply spiritual place for me. An open air temple among the aspen and pine. Today I am cherishing its families, I am closing my eyes and remembering the deep peace of its endless blue mountain skies, the constancy of the rushing Platte River that runs between the folds of her meadows....I am seeing her held in the palm of God's hands, comforted by Her tender love and encouraged to focus on the good all around them and find their peace. Here is a small snapshot of my journey towards that kind of peace in 1999:
It was a beautiful day in late April and yet that drive from our small town in northern Colorado to a suburb of Denver that afternoon, which I made quite often, was anything but ordinary. I strained my heart to find the presence of God. I searched the still beige and gold prairie for instances of order, beauty, peace. I knew that if I could focus on the presence of these qualities in nature I would be acknowledging the presence of their source, and one thing I was sure about God was that He was either All or nothing. So if He was at all present...He was all-present.
I needed to know His presence in very real and tangible ways that afternoon. My heart was heavy and I knew I couldn't let it stay that way. I had work to do and this work would require anything but a heavy heart. It would require the absolute certainty of God's presence and power that I was searching, the endless Colorado landscape, for evidence of.
My old jeep and I were on our own form of autopilot. I prayed and it just held to the road like the bottom-heavy friend it had been on our many trips into canyons and backroads visiting homebound patients and/or traversing ice and snow to reach someone in need. But today we were on a dry highway traveling briskly toward a place not yet trail-blazed in my experience.
It was April 20, 1999, and although the radio in the jeep was silent, the voices of newscasters and commentators seemed to be filling my mental airwaves. Words like gunmen, Columbine (which before that afternoon had only been the name of a delicate mountain flower my daughter and I admired each summer in high meadows), fallen, and victims punctuated that silence like gunshots. I knew I had to find a peace so solid and secure before I arrived at the catholic church in Littleton where I would join religious leaders, spiritual counselors and social workers who were gathering to minister to the broken hearts and shattered families whose lives had been directly and indirectly touched by the days events, that nothing to move me.
Those mental voices were so loud and the tears on my cheeks were so hot with horror and grief that I couldn't seem to find the focus and deep-centered peace that was usually mine within milliseconds of any report of sickness, disease, fear or anger. Today that peace seemed illusive and ungraspable. I was ready to turn the Jeep around and head home knowing that I would do no one any good if I couldn't find my spiritual grounding.
Just then something in the sky caught my eye. It was a hawk riding an invisible updraft over the prairie. I pulled off the highway and got out of the car. Other cars and tractor trailers whizzed past but as I watched that hawk soaring on an unseen thermal I found my peace. Right there on the side of the road I too could feel the same soft, but powerful, current of air moving through my hair, I could see the way that hawk used what was unseen to lift him higher and higher without beating his wings. I could see the way that same breeze was giving movement to millions of individual blades of tall grass and golden grains across farmlands and straight up into the foothills of the mountains where I knew pine trees and aspens moved like choreographed dancers directed by a great and all powerful director. I was ready.
I got back in my trusty Jeep and together we moved with the same syncronicity of mission towards, not a suburb full of broken hearts and shattered peace, but towards an enormous human meadow full of hearts ready to be moved by the breath of God's love towards a greater sense of peace, a more certain sense of life, a better view of themselves. I knew that God would show us all, in the context of each others need, our better selves. We would see one another not as an endless sea of hurting humanity, but as individual blades of grass moving and being moved by God's love to bend and reach and touch each other's hearts. Our weeping would be the music of our compassion and of our tenderness. To it's chorus we would help each other soar on the unseen thermals of God's love....as that very love expressed to and with and for each other.
By the time I reached the Light of God Catholic church near Columbine High School I was ready and eager to hear the symphony of spiritual care I knew would be echoing through the halls of that church, the streets of that community, and in the homes and hearts of everyone who needed it's "peace be still" to move and ground them in God's presence. I didn't see counselors, pastors and victims, but blades of long golden grass moving in a harmonious dance of care and compassion. I loved joining that dance.
Those were long, full days. The sadness, grief and horror still whizzed around and past me like those cars and tractor trailers on the highway that day. Some days I felt so tired that I wondered why I wasn't blown away...but I wasn't. From where I soared with the updraft under my wings I could not be moved or swayed by their force. I was riding on the thermals of God's love higher and higher where I could only see a sea of human grass dancing to a song of spiritual grace. I was watching love in action, love moving unseen through those around me to cause us all to reach out and touch someone with a word of kindness, to listen with an open heart. I watched as the sky I was in soaring in became filled with others who had spread their wings and caught the thermal and could better see God's unseen hand in each moment.
Today, almost eight years later, the color of the sky that day in April is still the color of peace to me. When I close my eyes in prayer I see an endless blue sky, a horizon-less sea of golden prairie grasses swaying and moving to a silent song as I let the thermals of God's presence lift me higher and higher for a better view of whatever I am being asked to pray about. That day lives in me, not as a day of infamy, but as a day of beauty and grace and seeing the very best that humanity can be when we let a silent song of love move us to help each other.
Those of us who were honored to be caregivers were given the best seats in the house for God's ballet of love.
Whenever the world tries to drown out peace with it's cacophony of horror....get off the highway and catch a thermal....the view is amazing from here.