Love’s Eye

Acts 2: 1-11; I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23

I was talking to some new pastors this week up at the seminary so of course part of the conversation was on prayer.  It is not only central to us priests but to all of us.  I was surprised when one of them had told me that he didn’t pray.  So, of course, I asked him why, and as surprised as I was to hear that he didn’t pray I wasn’t all surprised by the why because I had heard in many times before.  When I finally sit down to pray, to stop, to quiet down, it seems at that point my mind takes off, a million miles a minute along with all my fears and anxieties, unresolved conflict, and all the rest begin to surface.  That’s the reason why you have to pray in those moments.

I use the example often, now that we are into the summer and it is hurricane season, to imagine a satellite image of a hurricane.  Most have a well-defined eye.  Crazy enough, that’s where you want to be in the hurricane.  It’s the place where the sun shines.  There’s peace and tranquility.  That’s the place of center we take with us into the storm, into the million miles a minute, otherwise the wall collapses and the storm consumes our lives.  This feast we celebrate today at the end of the Easter Season defines our center, that place of peace and tranquility that is hopefully leading us and navigating us through the storms of our own lives, as individuals, community, country, and world.  We certainly know that that’s not always the case.

When the early community begins to form and that we heard of throughout this Easter season from Acts of the Apostles, they too found themselves often trying to find that center and allowing it to be their navigation tool through often tumultuous times.  It was not an easy go for them when community was beginning to form around this new identity in Christ.  Like any community, there is self-interest, there are people that are trying to satisfy their own needs, there are people that are trying to drag us into their own storms, into the chaos of their own lives that will often challenge that center, that navigation tool.

The same was true for Corinth in whom Paul writes today.  It’s a section of that letter that we are all familiar with when he speaks of different gifts but the same spirit being manifested in the life of the community.  He’ll go onto to speak about the different parts yet one body and culminate in the next chapter with his message of love that we are familiar with from weddings.  There was dissension in the ranks of the community because they thought one person’s gift was better than the other, thinking that speaking in tongues was somehow better than the rest.  It created riffs.  Like the world we often find ourselves in today, there was selfish motivation, which of course, at that point, loses its purpose of being a gift in the first place!  One gift is not somehow better than the other, but rather, Paul will go onto say that no matter the gift and no matter the person, at the center of the community, the great navigation tool, will be that of love.  That becomes the eye of the storm and it becomes the navigation tool that the disciples will have to take into the storms that await them on that Easter day.

There seems to be no great Pentecost experience with them when we encounter them in today’s Gospel.  There they are, caught in the midst of a wild storm as the witnessed the death of Jesus, the one who had been their center up to this point.  For John, though, he’s going to want to take us back to the beginning and not to just the beginning of the gospel but back to the beginning of Genesis, when God breathes life into creation.  Here we are now, locked in the upper room, filled with fear and doubt, wondering and questioning, feeling like they’re being consumed by the storm and all that they had known falling down around them, and Jesus appears.  But not to just pick back up where they had left off on Good Friday but to give them a new center that goes deep within them and yet so far beyond them.  Jesus breathes on them, not just into their mouths, but into their very being the gift of the Spirit.  That will become their place of authority, their place of deep love, their own navigation tool as we see them go forward throughout Acts of the Apostles.

As we draw this Easter season to a close today, we pray for that same Spirit to be breathed into us, making us aware of where our center is in life.  Do we find ourselves much more comfortable in the storminess, chaos, fear and anxiety, that at times consumes our lives or are we being led to a place of peace that expands truth and makes space within us for all peoples?  Maybe we’re at a place where we need to quiet down, slow down, even if our minds want to go a million miles an hour.  That’s exactly where that navigation tool is leading us, to expand that place of peace and tranquility within us.  The last thing the world needs is more chaos, fear, and anxiety.  It leads us to reacting to everything that comes our way, sucking us into the storminess of lives and feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Like the disciples, on this day God desires to breathe that life, that Spirit into each of us so rather than being defined by the storminess we become the agents of change by brining that navigation tool, that eye, that deep source of love to an often hurting world to bring about the redemption that is freely given to each of us.

 

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Life’s Narrow Gate

John 10: 1-10

One of the final scenes of the movie Up is of Carl, the old guy who is just besides himself, wallowing in his grief.  He lost his wife before they could ever make their way to their dream vacation, Paradise Falls.  It’s all they ever wanted.  Yet, over and over again something happens, life happens, and it never happens and then her life is cut short.  He’s a grieving man who’s lost so much and is now at wits end with the young boy and the bird that have led him down this path that he just doesn’t know what to do.  They have a big fight and go their separate ways, leaving Carl to return to his house.

But something happens at that house that he’s tried to fly to Paradise Falls with balloons.  He begins to look at albums and realizes he didn’t know the whole story.  He was so trapped in his grief and in the way things used to be, his expectations of that dream vacation, that he had lost sight of the bigger picture and realized it was time to let go.  It’s one of the best scenes of the movie because you see him start to throw out the furniture, throw out anything hung on the walls, anything that was nailed down had to go out the door and gradually the house begins to fly once again, not to Paradise Falls as he thought, but a return to this makeshift community that he had grown to love.

It’s what we encounter in today’s Gospel of the Good Shepherd as well.  It’s not the cute, stained glass window good shepherd that we have become accustomed to over the years.  If you go back to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, this is the follow up to the story of the Man Born Blind which ends up in a fight between Jesus and the Pharisees and the staunch insiders that are wound so tight that they too lose sight of the bigger picture.  They think they know it all.  They have their eye on what they think is Paradise Falls, which more often than not was doing things as prescribed in their own way, and yet they grow angry and tired of this Jesus and today is really the continuation of his response to them after he tells them they are the ones that are blind.

Like Carl in Up, as time goes on and they allow things to become attached internally, their vision becomes more narrow.  They become blinded to the true paradise falls, or in John’s case, a return to the Garden of Eden, and the challenge it is to move to such freedom in life.  So once again, even though they still won’t get it, he uses this image of sheep, shepherd, gates, and all the rest which aren’t anything we’re accustomed to in our society.  They best I can come up with is if you’ve ever been to Ireland you can see rows of small stone walls that seem to go on for miles and then every now and then there is this narrow opening.  All the images used by Jesus, though, is taking what they see as derogatory and turning it upside down.  Early followers of the way or of the Christ were often known as sheep, similar to what in our own history we’d refer to people who might live differently or look differently than us might have been referred to as in life.  It appeared that they had blindly followed something that the rest couldn’t quite grasp because of the lack of depth in their own lives.  The followers, these sheep, had been led to the garden, the pasture, this place of freedom which only has one way through, and that’s through the narrow gate.  There’s no jumping over and knocking the wall down.  You can only through the narrow gate.

Like Carl, because of the narrowness of the gate it’s nearly impossible to take anything through with you.  The shepherd literally acts as the gate by lying on the ground and leading them across to this place of freedom.  We become weighed down by our own illusion of what this paradise is that we begin to lose sight like the Pharisees and the staunch insiders.  We begin to think that things can only be done in one way and no other way.  We begin to replace paradise with the American Dream and think it’s about accumulating, the white picket fence, and gathering things that begin to leave us weighed down rather than free to roam about in this life.  But the life and the life more abundantly that Jesus speaks of in this passage has nothing to do with any of it.  We keep trying to get to paradise falls with all our belongings and all we hold onto but end up stuck in life.  The path to a more abundant life that Jesus speaks of is often just the opposite of the American way of life, not about accumulating but about letting go.

One of John’s central themes is to move to this place of a more abundant life.  It’s not easy and it does come only with a passage through that narrow gate.  The path to that more abundant life is by living a life of conversion, of an ever-changing heart that doesn’t allow itself to become weighed down by fear, worry, anxiety, and all else that a life in this culture often leads us to each day.  The great thing about allowing ourselves to enter into this life of conversion is that on some level it gets easier.  The more we learn to let go of in life the less we try to carry through that narrow gate.  What makes the sheep so smart and how Jesus throws it all on its head is that more than anything, sheep trust that one voice, the true voice.  It’s where the Pharisees and the insiders get it wrong.  They worry about how it looks and all the externals of life, but the path John leads us on through the Christ in a dismantling of our interior life, just as it was for Carl.

As we continue this Easter journey on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray for the awareness in our lives as to what we still try to carry with us through life.  Where are we being weighed down and are hearts being weighed down by failed expectations, hurts, fears, and all the rest.  Like Carl, and the disciples, we often learn only by going through and not get comfortable with what we think is paradise falls because the Christ promises an even more abundant life when we learn to let go, cease control, and be led through the narrow gate.  We quickly learn, as did Carl, it’s no longer about getting to Paradise Falls.  Rather, it’s about living Paradise Falls in this very moment and quite often in the life of our own community.

Stop Worrying!

Isaiah 49: 14-15; I Cor 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34

I have to say, one of the most disheartening things that I have seen as a priest are the amount of churchy people that worry about everything and live with so much fear. That’s not to say that there aren’t things that we all worry about and even fear. We certainly all know people who are sick, suffering from cancer, worry about health insurance, jobs, some these days fear being deported, heck, not far from hear many worry about whether they’ll still be alive tomorrow, and the list goes on, but so often it does beg the question that we can glean from today’s gospel, asking us where we put our faith. We can’t come here, in faith, believing that somehow God can transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and somehow can’t lead me to a place of transformation and conversion.

We’ve heard some challenging gospels the past several weeks as we delved deeply into the Beatitudes and the blueprint that Jesus puts forward as what it means to be a disciple and as Christian, in our language today. None of it has been easy and should be challenging us on many levels. However, this message of faith and trust lies at the heart of it all. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about dogma and doctrine. You know, none of that was around in the time of Jesus, but this level of trust as we hear in these readings today that somehow God will provide, despite our worries and fears.

Of course, we also live in a culture and society that is driven by consumerism and capitalistic America. Success means something to us today. However, the more we pursue it, the more it begins to take a toll on us when we begin to realize that we start creating gods and idols that we’d prefer to trust rather than to seek first the kingdom and keep our eye on the bigger picture of life and becoming consumed as consumers. That too begs the question as to where we are putting our faith. Unfortunately, that has even found its way into church and parish life. We want to be a successful parish. We want numbers. We need money. Before you know it, we simply become part of the problem because we begin to live our lives as the world does rather than seeking the kingdom. We become about building a business rather than leading people to faith in the true God who will continue to provide.

The same was true for people Israel whom Isaiah delivers this beautiful message in today’s first reading. He too reminds Israel about this faithful God despite their own unfaithfulness over the years. Think about them building their golden calf and the tower of Babel, thinking that will somehow take them to the God that they desired. It became about building and holding onto things, this god, for them, became about safety and security. It’s all the really wanted, even if it was an illusion of safety and security. But, of course, in time, that too all came crashing down around them and they find themselves in exile over and over again, lost, wandering in the desert, still trying to satisfy the lacking that they felt in their lives. Once again, they had to learn and ask where they were putting their faith and trust and was it really in a God that continued to provide. Sure it’s a scary proposition for us, especially in the face of so much uncertainty and so many realities that seem to scare us and invoke fear these days, but where are we putting our faith.

Paul tells us to seek that faith in the mystery in which we are stewards. It’s not something we own or hold onto, possess, but rather are caretakers of. This mystery, grounded in faith and trust, leads to freedom, where we can let go of the idols and gods that we have come to rely upon and even become addicted to over the course of our lives. His communities, especially Corinth who we have heard about these couple months struggled greatly with what it means to be a people of faith. Every community and person does. It’s the human struggle because we doubt and question, especially in situations where we worry, but as Jesus says, where does it get us.

As we round out this Ordinary Time in the Church and prepare ourselves to enter into a season of transformation and conversion, we must take with us this blueprint that Jesus has laid out before us the past several Sunday’s. They can’t just be left at the door now that we enter another season. Rather, they must continue to challenge us in the society and culture that we live. There is great fear and anxiety in the world and much to worry about. There is no denying that. But with each passing moment we must continue to ask ourselves where are faith lies and what idols do we continue to hold onto despite the disappointment that they often afford us. Is our faith in money? Is it in our success? Is it in what we own? Is it in an institution, including a Church that often disappoints?

Now imagine our lives with those scales falling from our eyes and that when we see bread and wine being transformed, in faith, so are our lives as well. Imagine that! It’s scary to think about it when these false gods have been seemingly so faithful to us despite the worry and fear they often invoke within us. As a matter of fact, it only seems to leave us feeling more short-changed in life. As we close out this time and enter into Lent, we can all do ourselves a favor by asking that simple question, where does our faith and trust lie? If it leads to fear, anxiety, and greater worry, well, it’s not in a God that always provides. Maybe it’s in a god that has kept us safe and secure, but it’s not seeking the kingdom and seeking a God who does faithfully provide.

Navigating Darkness

Matthew 2: 1-12

One of the movies I caught over the holidays was A Monster Calls. The story is about a young boy, Conor, who finds himself just overwhelmed by life and not able to take much more of it. His parents are divorced, he’s bullied at school because he’s become so isolated, and now the one consistency in his life, his mother, is dying of cancer. He has this ongoing nightmare where he feels as if life is slipping through his hands. There’s so much uncertainly that he lives in this constant state of fear, let along the anxiety and anger he’s experiencing because of this deep grief.

But he encounters this “monster” which is the tree outside in the cemetery that comes to life. Even that distracts him from the nightmare he’s used to. He begins to call upon it. He begins to realize that the “monster” isn’t out there in the cemetery, it’s deep within him. The monster keeps assuring him that he’s leading him to healing, to this deeper truth that gets lost in the darkness of despair and this ongoing lie that he’s holding onto that everything will be alright and his mother will somehow survive. He begins to learn how to navigate through the darkness that has so often consumed his life and learns to let go. It’s not easy for us adults let along a young boy trying to navigate.

This whole season has been allowing ourselves to wander and navigate that same darkness in our lives. Christmas does not expel the darkness nor does it somehow destroy it. We seem to operate in the world that we can get rid of it which only leads to greater darkness. These Magi we encounter today are learning to do the same in their lives. Even their navigation is a bit off, leaning on their own expectations of a king being born. They find themselves a few miles outside Bethlehem in Jerusalem, in what seems to be their final challenge in learning how to navigate this great darkness, the Herod that lies within.

Fear rules Herod and the land and it’s what the Magi now must face within themselves. He was a tyrant and often believed to have been paranoid in the end of his days. He too finds himself in a position where life seems to be slipping through his fingers and losing control. However, he doesn’t let it go. Rather, he takes it out on the most vulnerable, on the children and has them killed. It’s fear, darkness, and despair when it comes to Herod but a valuable lesson for the Magi seeking life, the newborn King. it’s a struggle for many of us, the darkness within ourselves that is so often easier to cast upon the other rather than learning how to navigate it all. Jerusalem will become that same place for the disciples as the story goes on. They too won’t understand the Christ until they first encounter that same darkness. It won’t come in the form of Herod but in the form of a crucifixion by others who are plagued by darkness. Jerusalem becomes the doorway to Bethlehem.

And so they find their way to the Christ. They offer their own gifts, in someways symbolic of their own journey and the darkness that they too had to confront. The journey to the Christ took them where they’d rather not go, where we would rather not go, but like God, we are often led without even knowing, into the great unknown, into this deeper reality of mystery. For young Conor and for the disciples, it was about seeking truth and truth leads to darkness and to life. He had to let go of what he knew. It was no longer about the head knowledge that we want to cling to and how it’s supposed to be or how we want it to be, but rather a deeper knowledge. It’s deeper knowing and truth that so often is beyond words but lies deep within, ever so gently navigating us through that very darkness that we have feared.

As this season of Christmas draws to a close, the journey really just begins. We’ll hear the call of the disciples to go deeper. We’ll hear the call to enter into this journey and to begin to learn to trust something deeper within themselves as they too are led to uncharted territory, where all that they have known begins to slip through their fingers. They will be left with the same choice as the Magi as the encounter the Christ. Do they leave it all at that crib, with great humility, life and death, or do they cling to what they can see, what they know, what they are comfortable with in life? It is what is asked of us as well. With God’s grace, we can learn to navigate the darkest of times, but we can’t deal with the darkness of the country or the world until we first begin to master it within ourselves. When we do, like the Magi, we can no longer go home the same way. The seeking of and finding of the Christ changes the course of our lives where we too go home by another way. It’s no longer about going home to what we know but into the unknown, into this deeper mystery. No, and not that physical place we call home, but deep in the recesses of our hearts and souls, ever so gently teaching and guiding us, while casting light, to navigate the darkness of our lives.

Uncertain Certainty

2 Macc 7: 1-2, 9-14; Luke 20: 27-38

As we enter into this month of November, our focus in the liturgical year begins to shift to what lies beyond us. We remember all of our loved ones that have died and that sometimes weigh on us. The whole month has a different feel to it than the rest of the year as the liturgical year begins to draw to a close.

Death is one of those strange things that we must deal with in our lives. Many have sat in this very church when a loved one dies and feels as if time ceases. We tell ourselves things in order to bring comfort in the face of death. It’s as if a new clock begins to tick after we die, an eternal clock, which only leads to further separation. It becomes something we anticipate rather than allow ourselves to experience in this moment. There is, rather a continuity and a continuation of time. The very last line of the gospel today reminds us that for God all are alive. That means us here who are living and breathing but also those that have died and continue to live in the eternal time that we share. It’s a challenge for us to define our lives by the eternal rather than trying to define the eternal by our earthly ways.

That’s the challenge Jesus faces with the Sadducees in today’s gospel. You know, for all the tension that often exists between Jesus and the Pharisees, this is the one time that they are all on the same page. They all believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees, on the other hand, do not which creates this interaction today that we hear on what seems to be a rather ridiculous story about marriage. The Sadducees would be what we call religious philosophers. You know they look for answers to such questions. But with such answers they want certainty, and to know; they want black and white. They want to try to define what we call heaven on their terms rather than allowing themselves to be comfortable with uncertainty, the unknown.

They’re a lot like us. It is the stuff we tell ourselves because it somehow brings comfort in our grief. We want to know that all who have gone before us are somehow ok and safe. It’s in those moments that we start to separate ourselves from death and define the unknown in our own terms. We start to separate ourselves from the other half of the mystery that we are. It sounds morbid to us at times but we are all dying and the more we allow ourselves to learn to die and practice dying, the less we have to fear it and the more at ease we are with the unknown and with uncertainty. The Sadducees want to know and want answers. If we can’t see it then we’ll define it ourselves rather than embracing what we don’t know. It’s us trying to give comfort to ourselves by defining the eternal rather than allowing the eternal to define us.

We then have this story of the Maccabean Martyrs in the first reading today. It’s worth a read but not for the faint of heart. The king was a vicious guy. But like the Sadducees, operates from a different place than the brothers and their mother. But like the gospel, it’s not just about them refusing to eat pork. That would be rather ridiculous as well. These were men who lived their lives in a very different way. They were truly faithful in its truest sense. They had no fear of death but at the same time, they weren’t willing to allow the king to define their lives. They lived from a place where they no longer had to fear death and the unknown. They were certain not about what they could see but rather what was unseen and unknown. To be people of faith we must learn to embrace the fullness of the mystery. When we cut ourselves off from death, the unknown, we ultimately cut ourselves off from the eternal and we start to define it for ourselves, in certain terms rather than in its fullness.

It is what we try to do each week here at this Table. It is about making the invisible, visible. About what making what is unknown, known before our very eyes. We have often lost that in making this into something we simply are obligated to do rather than not only recognizing that it is who we are but is also who we are becoming. It’s about allowing the eternal to define us rather than us defining the eternal through our earthly means. It may give us certainty in our own minds, but it closes us off and cuts us off from a more fuller life by embracing the mystery in its fullness, life and death. We believe in a God who is for all who are alive, both living and breathing at this moment and all who no longer physically present. That should ease our anxiety that we create for ourselves about dying and the eternal and it no longer has to be something that we simply experience after we die and yet then as well.

This is who we are. We are a people that desires certainty and knowing and yet we never will. We are a people that want to feel comfort for all who have gone before us, but never will in the way that we think. Time does not cease to exist but carries on and everyone with us. When we learn to embrace this very mystery of life and death, the paradox is, we learn to live more fully. Why would we not want that for ourselves and our loved ones?

Humbling Connectedness

Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24; Luke 14: 1, 7-14

I don’t need to tell you that Jesus has this tendency to create tension wherever he goes. It’s as if conflict follows him into all these different situations. Today is no different. He stands, as the writer of Hebrews tells us today, the Mediator, between these two opposing realities.

There’s first the reality of the Pharisees. They are the center of religious power and a power that often went far beyond religion. They saw themselves in many ways as gods and the keeper of the law. Here he is in the leading Pharisees house on the Sabbath so naturally there’s going to be tension. He heals a guy which already counts as a strike against him and then begins to observe the actions of the Pharisees, who, on many levels, are oblivious to what’s going on and how their actions appear and speak to others.

Then there’s this other reality that he presents to them through the telling of parables and who should be invited to dinner. It’s the poor, the crippled, the lame, and every other outcast of society. It’s the people that have been ostracized by the pharisees for one reason or another. Yet, they are the ones that Mediator raises up in humility. So what makes their reality so unique? I’m not saying everyone because they too are human but the difference often comes in this deep connectedness that they have that goes beyond the community that they’ve been ostracized from, a deeper connection with what is bigger than themselves. They’ve had to learn because of their lives to have faith and put trust in the One that is bigger than themselves, as opposed to the pharisees whom often saw themselves as the ones that are bigger than the other.

All of this is the realities that Jesus steps into as Mediator and tries to find another way, a third way as it is often called, to bring together these opposing opposites. But we know not only from the time of Jesus but our own time as well that it just doesn’t seem to happen. When the people in authority and who hold the power are put into such a position they don’t want to budge. The buckle down and try to hold onto their power, which isn’t even real in the first place. Jesus brings up fear and uncomfortableness in their lives and of course becomes the scapegoat for their fear and uncomfortableness. He is a threat not only to them but to the system, the institution that they represent, and they become self-serving. It’s no longer about the people who are in touch with this deeper reality, it’s about holding on and trying to save something that isn’t real in the first place.

Now we know how it turns out. Eventually these systems even today must die. They know longer have the purpose they once had but that requires all of us to change. The pharisees isn’t just these guys back in the time of Jesus but they are me and they are you. We don’t like things to change but when the system no longer serves the most vulnerable and becomes self-serving, it’s lost it’s purpose. Like them, there is that part of us that wants to hold onto it. It’s the critic in ourselves that will do everything to prevent change and to try to sabotage anything new. When we don’t, we have what we have today, this sense of disconnectedness that exists between the ruling class, as it is with the pharisees, and become blinded by their own behavior, and what’s most importation, this deeper connection that we hold, this inherent dignity that comes from the Eternal Mediator that tries to reconcile these parts of ourselves to makes us whole, as individuals, community, city, and even country.

None of us can deny that the systems are broken in our Church and government. They may have had their place in a time but not anymore. Heck, even a few weeks ago Jesus threw the family institution into the mix as well. All of it is a voice crying out to be heard that is being ignored. Those in power want to continue to keep others at bay, to keep that disconnectedness, creating the violence we see in our own lives and beyond. The readings, though, today speak of humility. Humility is when we become aware of how we have allowed the pharisee in ourselves to lead us and disconnect us from our own humanity and the One bigger than ourselves. It’s is a dying to self and giving up that self for a greater good for the people, especially the most vulnerable. If we don’t take care of those that have been ostracized we have truly lost our way. We pray today for that humility in our lives, in our city, and certainly in this nation.

Pride has quite the way of taking hold of our lives and not wanting to let go, blinding us to those being called to the banquet as Jesus speaks of today. We have become so blinded by that in our own country and our hold to nationalism and other pharisaical ways that we become attached to in our lives. We pray for that humility to be able to sit with the tension in our own lives and to meet the Eternal Mediator in the heart of it all, calling us to let go and to connect with our deeper identity, our inherent dignity in Christ.

Beyond the Edge

IMG_1536I came across a quote today from author and conservationist, Wallace Stegner, in which he wrote in a letter, “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” I don’t know if I ever could have appreciated those words until a made a concerted effort to visit some of the great national parks of the United States, which now I can include Denali. Although it has been limited so often to the majestic mountain we visited yesterday, there is so much more, a wild side that spans millions of acres that often times have yet to be explored.

It’s been interesting meeting some of the people along the way here and other Parks I’ve visited. When you meet those who dedicate months of their lives to educating others within the park, you often are left wondering why they got there in the first place and why they continue to do it in service to others. Maybe on some level Stegner was right that if it does anything, it has the uncanny ability to reassure us of our sanity let alone heal us on levels that we are often totally unaware of as we walk through life. So much of the time is simply trying to take it in and every now and then listen to the stories being told, of the guide but also of the vast land that advances before your very eyes, even with a glass window standing in the way from fully embracing the experience on a deeper level, on a very tactile level of touching the earth that has been home to humans and animals for years beyond counting.

One of the people we encountered today, who has served in Denali for nearly ten years now each summer was Phil. He was our bus driver but also our nature guide as we ventured through the Park today. He couldn’t have been more than his late 20’s driving this bus, majored in Marketing back in Colorado, and now spends the off-season training other bus drivers to do what he does at Denali. But it was his story that leaves you pondering the words of Stegner because it was practically just a month ago that he was attacked by a Grizzly in the Park. Now I would guess that for most of us, that would be the end of our time stepping foot in there without having some time of flashbacks or anxiety attacks, but here he was driving us through and now telling his story of his encounter with the wild. It’s probably the main reason why most of us don’t venture beyond the confines of our cars or bus, the fear of the wild is real for us because it is the one thing that still leaves us humbled that there really is something more powerful than ourselves.

Phil has the scars to prove it (although he wouldn’t allow me to take a photo to prove it!). The grizzly caught him right at his left calf, a bite mark that encompasses much of his leg. He had gone out hiking on a beautiful day in late June and was trying to avoid areas of moose scat, which, unfortunately, led him to the encounter with the mama grizzly and her two cubs. He knew what he had to do in order to protect himself but also knew what he was up against in the reality of the wild that remains untamed and ferocious, yet, continuously invites us to those very places within ourselves. At some point, if he hasn’t already, he may find himself seeking that grizzly within himself, teaching him, guiding him, and acting as wisdom to this young man, but until then it remains an external encounter, wounding the flesh but often wounding and touching something deeper within us at the same time.

I have to say, many of the people that we’ve encountered in these locations are locals. They didn’t grow up here and had no immediate connection to Alaska until they had come themselves, visiting and experiencing the land and the spirit that arises from within these lands. We mustn’t forget the countless Natives that have called this home before others ever arrived, who have called forth from the wild the spirit of these lands. As much as many of them aren’t here, they return to give back. During an initial visit to the outreaches of this country they are called, have a life-changing encounter, and then continue to yearn to return to what then becomes home. It seems, at times, hard to fathom why they would ever do it. Why would Phil keep returning to these secluded parts of not only Alaska but this country he calls home, if it hadn’t first touched him in some deeper way.

From the peaks of Denali to the depths of the countless acres of undergrowth, it remains metaphor for something bigger, beyond explanation. Maybe they haven’t all found it yet within themselves, but the voice of the great Spirit that leads them to these lands and continues to reassure them of their sanity, reminds them of the nagging within themselves for connection and encounter and they find it here. In my experience, and I’m sure they’d say the same, you can really only drive to the edge and look in for so long, in the words of Stegner. Eventually you have to allow yourself to cross that line and enter in fully, even if it means an encounter with a grizzly. Deep down, you just know, that it’s where you belong and may be the only place that leads you to saving your soul and living your life most fully.