Mar 7, 2013

God's Country

swrnn-lost-hikers-art-smith-trailIn my latest "In Good Faith" column, I mention my recent trip into the California desert (I saw a road runner!) to preach in Palm Desert. My good friend Lane Hensley is the rector at St. Margaret's and invited me to preach following my time attending and co-leading a workshop (with my archnemesis) at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes conference in San Diego. From 80 degrees and blue skies to wintery mix. But it's still good to be home. Really.

God's Country

I saw the most amazing sight while in southern California last week. After flying out for a mid-week conference in San Diego, I stayed through the weekend to guest preach at a church in Palm Desert. Having never been out that way I was mesmerized by the two-and-a-half-hour drive out into the desert. The waterfront quickly gave way to rolling green hills which morphed into giant rock-covered mountains full of cacti and, I was told, rattlesnakes. The topography was near Biblical -- stunningly wild and beautiful.

I even had a road runner pointed out to me as it scampered across the landscape. For someone who’s only seen one on Saturday morning cartoons, this was impressive. Sure, we have coyotes in Massachusetts but definitely not road runners.

None of this is what truly captured my imagination or made me do a triple take. That moment would come just as we neared the peak of the highest mountain before heading down into the Palm Dessert valley. A young couple had pulled over to the side of the road. They were standing just slightly away from their car. At first I thought maybe they had engine trouble and we slowed down. Then in an instant it became clear what they were doing: the young man had a camera in his hand and he was taking a picture of a tiny patch of snow.

Imagine! Someone who had probably grown up in the desert wanting to record a rare remnant of cold weather. My first thought was “Picture? Get me a shovel!” But then I started reflecting on the power of different perspectives. We were both mesmerized by what we saw that day. We just came at it from diametrically opposed angles. As I thought about it, snow in the desert is an incredible sight. And if he thought about it, I’m sure he would recognize that the ancient rock formation upon which this small piece of snow stood, was also extraordinary. We could have mocked one another for our respective parochialism -- that’s what people usually do when confronted with different perspectives (our recent national election is exhibit A). But it’s the diversity of viewpoints that enriches us and gets at the fulness of an elusive truth.

I admit I've always disliked the expression “God’s country.” I picture someone wandering around an unadulterated prairie of Wyoming saying, “Now this is God’s country.” Well, of course it is. But so is every other corner of the earth. It’s all God’s country: the populated urban parts, the desolate rural areas, the tract houses in a nameless suburban county. To imply that one part of the world is “God’s country” is to suggest that God is somehow more present in certain areas than others. Which is not only lousy theology but also a rather arrogant worldview.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate reveling in God’s creation -- especially when there seems to be less and less of it these days. Driving through the desert made me think about the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry. This season of Lent, in which we find ourselves, mirrors Jesus’ time in the desert and helps Christians walk the way of the cross that leads to Easter joy.

Each one of us takes a different spiritual path -- there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to faith. Some of us might encounter two-foot snow drifts; others 120 degree desert heat. Yet as our Lenten journeys bring us closer to God, we recognize that while we don’t have all the answers, we do have unique experiences worth sharing.


Gary Goldacker said...

Thank you for a really inspiring post. Seriously. Those of us who live in the Rockies always delight in taking our summer visitors in August up to the mountains to a large (think city block) of snow so they can take those pictures and play in the snow.

Howard Shute said...

It is very important to the study of God's creation that you have a clean windshield.