And the day God breathed upon your still life, stirring into being the green leaf and the flower, bud upon the branch and light
upon your soul. Here you felt the earth’s air on your petals and your leaves, and squinted into sunlight, gazing high for heaven
until you felt the gardener’s hand gently turning soil and soul, and nurturing you, bud in radiant sun.
Cascading rain absorbed in warm earth turning, heaven of fragrance. What is that sound in the wind and dazzling light?
Oh, the sweet sound of your delight in God. Sometimes it is like the sound of running laughter.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Running the Great Wall
Sometimes you just have to do a thing. I mean, it is there in front of you for maybe one time in your life, and so you must. This was my reasoning behind my visit to The Great Wall of China. It was there. So I hired a driver and an English-speaking guide, and they took me there for a run. Mr. Ruo sat in the front and drove, and Emma and I sat in the back and talked. It was an hour’s drive from Beijing. She told me of Beijing’s original city wall that circled it with 11 city gates. Today only the city gates remain; the original ring of the city wall is gone. I saw one of the original gates along the road. It was a silent echo of an ancient culture filled with wonder. The sky was overcast, and I was primed for adventure. The Great Wall as a tourist site is divided into 5-6 sections available to the public. I visited the section called Mutianyu Great Wall. When we reached the parking area, we took a cable car up to the wall itself. She asked if I wanted my picture taken. I reluctantly agreed. She described how the path atop the wall went to the right some distance and that it went to the left a shorter, more difficult distance. She recommended that I go to the right. Beyond some distance either way tourists were not allowed, it was restricted. We agreed to meet in an hour and a half at a specified location near where the cable cars embark, and said goodbye. A light, pleasant rain – just a few drops here and there – fell around me and seemed to heighten my awareness to these magical surroundings.
I took a deep breath and ran to the right. Very soon I realized that running was going to be mixed with ascending and descending stairs and many other things. The wall was comprised of countless stairs. And it was made of outlook buildings and passageways and twists and turns. I determined to make this running thing work and just kept moving. As I went along and looked out across the horizon in any direction I was met with breathtaking views of distant mountains in the mist. I felt like I was looking into an Oriental painting. It was so beautiful and so very peaceful. The views alone would bring anyone into an immediate meditative state. As I maneuvered along the rim I felt calm and restful. It seemed that this adventure had become effortless. Eventually I reached the “Not open to the public - No Admittance” sign. I greeted several people there, turned, and headed back encountering more incredible views that stretched my sense of awe and wonder. When I arrived back at my starting point I had 15 minutes remaining until I was due to meet up with my guide and driver. I thought, “Oh, why not....” Then I headed in the other direction - more stairs, more passageways, more twists and turns, more wonderful, inspiring views from the heights of this ancient structure; more wonderment and glorious reflections of a mighty God. On distant mountain ranges I could just see in the mist other lookouts, further outposts where ancient military had scanned the horizon for possible Mongolian invasions. I made my way along this second leg of my journey, glancing up at my objective over head - I was headed way up there. Whoa! At last I was standing at the base of a very profound, very steep climb of stairs. I had no idea how many stairs there were, I just attacked them with a steady rhythm and kept moving. Finally, after what seemed an endless time, I poured out onto a plaza of sorts and looked out over the best and most wonderful view of all. There were a half a dozen people lingering on the plaza after their climb. Across on the far side of this plaza I found the “Not open to the public - No Admittance” sign. I looked out over the broad vista and breathed in the view. It was beyond all words to me. Worship comes easy when you are standing so close to the heavens. How will my experiences on the Great Wall touch me in the days and months ahead? Will those views from the wall weave through my thoughts and continue to inform me by the mere seeing of the distant mountain ranges and the seeing of the vast strand of the Great Wall strung out across the beautiful mountains, by the mere seeing of so much wonder and glory? Was my running on the Great Wall significant to me? Was the impression an enduring one? I hope so. I think it will be.
The seeing is important. René Daumal once said, “You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” When we have been in the heavens, we still know; we still have awareness of deep and holy realities there. And God is like that for us. We can see His handiwork in the mountains and in the great structures from ancient cultures. We can see His glory.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. [Psalm 95:1-7]
And as we see His glory, as we know Him and draw near and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with Him, He teaches us. I think it is in these places that He gives us eyes to see - from the rim of The Great Wall and from the edges of our toughest challenges. When we are pushed into the heights of believing, He is there to guide and help us. And as we descend the heights, as René Daumal says, we can “still know” what can no longer be seen. Yes, our faith rides this thin edge of hope. It is a wonder and His glory.