"How is a raven like a writing desk?"
-Alice in Wonderland
I've lived in the desert of Phoenix for about 20 years, but it hasn't been until recently that I have developed an appreciation for the scenery. The mountains, cacti, and dust-covered-everything have not changed so much, but as I change over the years, so does my outlook.
The brown that settles everywhere is no longer boring and old, but subtle and inviting. The things that look so much like death, the dry still cactus and arid mountain, now hold beautiful possibility for life and rejuvenation.
I love hiking, mostly because hiking is a metaphor for life, and I happen to love both metaphors and life. There are metaphors everywhere that can help us understand life and how to live it.
My hike is always a journey, one I start, continue, and finish with intentionality, remembering along the way that my goal is to end stronger than I started, and to enjoy the journey.
I have learned a few things while hiking.
I look up at the mountain, its grandeur leaning over me like an unconquerable giant. But I know I cannot jump to the top. I must start with a single step, and continue looking at what is directly in front of me on my path. A simple distraction on the side of the path is enough to take my attention off the giant boulder that is directly in front of me, and I will land flat on my face.
I cannot continue to move forward while looking behind. I look behind for a quick glance, to analyze where I've been, but I don't dwell.
Sometimes I find I must also stop to look ahead to see where the path leads. But I can't let my gaze linger too far ahead because I will lose focus on the path directly under my feet, ignoring the immediate dangers and obstacles that I must avoid.
I am compelled often to completely stop, plant my feet on the dusty ground, and take in the beauty of where I am: breathe, say a prayer, be still in a quiet moment of gratitude. Then I continue forward with that refreshing memory clear in my mind.
Sometimes I have companions on this journey. Sometimes we enjoy the journey together; sometimes I carry their fatigued bodies until they have the strength to walk by my side again.
Sometimes I have to ask my companions to slow down, wait for me while I struggle behind. Sometimes I have to yell a warning to my companions behind me--there may be danger, a snake, fallen cactus--reminding them to be cautious. And sometimes my companions have to yell up to me, as I have raced ahead onto a trail we were not intended to take, and they have to remind me that I have wandered off the right path.
And then when I've made it to the summit, I look at where I've come from, the long winding road that has led me here, to this point above the city, beyond the issues of life, just me and God and His creation. No wonder spiritual highs are called "mountain top experiences." I know there will be valleys to come; the path will get rocky once again, but I must remember to enjoy each step of the journey, to be strong for my companions and lean on them when I cannot be, and that another summit is on its way.