Monday, February 27, 2017

God as a Public Hiker: Encountering God in the familiar vs unfamiliar

I’ve always imagined about the day I’ll meet God. I hope it’s on a hike. Through the distance, the beauty of creation, and struggles of the terrain, a hike brings people together. Hiking is a territory I know, a territory I thrive in.

I imagine God showing up as a public hiker, probably the one that stands out- comes alone, isn’t from Montreat. Maybe God just moved to Black Mountain and is looking to meet new friends and see the beauty of this new home. God rocks a fanny pack and only brought one little plastic water bottle for the whole day. I glance around to my fellow rangers and we smile because we know God is going to be a lot to handle. 

As we all gather around and introduce ourselves, I find myself watching God. Watching how God never ceases to have a warm and loving smile. God pays attention to everyone while they speak and I see God repeat each name back, making sure not to forget. 

As the hike starts, I run right to the front, eager to avoid the idle chit chat with all the public hikers. Audrey joins me and we leave our other fellow rangers to do the entertaining, they are much better at that than we are. 

Audrey and I pass the time by pushing the pace, loving the sweat starting to form while the stillness of the forest takes over. We hike in silence, hike in peace. My dreaming, imaginative mind starts to take over and I hind myself blissfully lost in my thoughts while the rhythmic pattern of my boots trudging through the forest grounds me- I’ve found my happy place. A while passes by in my hiking bliss and I realize it’s time to snap back to reality, time to do my job.

So I rotate to the back to relieve the others of all the socializing pressure. Not long after, God slows and sets pace to match mine. I groan silently, not ready to fully let go of my hiking bliss to indulge in endless small talk. But it begins- God asks me where I’m from, where I go to school, the usual. I return the pleasantries and God and I begin to know each other. To my surprise, conversations flows easily while God stages the conversation so that I can talk about my passions. Creation theology, my upcoming move to the Philippines, and eventual attendance at Princeton Seminary dominate the conversation and I feel good and light that God allowed for so much time for me to spill that which makes my heart smile. Throughout my ramblings God is attentive and listens with love, love matching the excitement in my voice. 

We take a water break and God rotates to talk to someone else, and I reconvene with my rangers. I ask them about God and they each have had similar encounters. They remark at how cool God is and what a fun conversation they had. I smile, but am still puzzled, there’s just something about God that I’m missing. 

As we start moving again, God surprises us all by becoming the life of the hike. We have a small party with us, about 7 total, and God engages us all in conversation- cracking jokes and telling wonderful, gripping stories. God turns the hike into a live show, and makes us all not only feel like fellow actors but also the audience. The fun continues and we reach the top. It is a crystal clear day and the beauty is quite stunning. We take a break to eat and I notice God becomes quiet and still while eating. God sits a bit further away from everyone and looks peaceful looking over the wonders of the rolling blue hills.

After a while, I make my way over to join God. I sit next to God and for a while, silence and beauty passes the time. God is the first to break it, when asking, “Katty, why do you like to hike?” I smile, and think about my answer for a while and then begin to respond. “A hike is journey, a tough one that brings us back to our primal nature- one we must walk. We walk up hills and over rocks and through forests and our body begins to grow weak and we get tired and thirsty, but we continue to walk. And we eventually walk until we become face to face with this (I motion to the view), face to face with the glory of the universe. And when I become face to face with the glory of the universe, I realize that the God that created this universe with such beauty in mind, also created me. With the same beauty. That brings me peace.”

God smiles and we sit in silence, not needing to pass the time with words. Eventually, the hike continues and finally ends. God says proper goodbyes and thanks us for leading the hike. The day continues and turns into the next day and the next, but the subtle glimpses of renewed kindness and goodness and attentiveness that God brought continue to bring me peace. 

And for a while, that’s what I needed God to be: an unusual hiker who reminds me of goodness, kindness, and that which brings me peace. But these days, what I need God to be changes as much as my emotions and experiences, pushed to the limit by living in a world where I’m an outsider, secluded by my skin color, sex, and privilege. And encountering God in so many different and trying ways leaves your world unfamiliar even to the most intimate parts of yourself. 

I long for those days when encountering God was easy and familiar, in a territory that was my purest form of home. But there is beauty in the resiliency of humans, able to form spaces of home in foreign places and then having the courage to encounter God in them, no matter what strange or undesired form God becomes known in. And there is beauty in knowing that every encounter with God is one worth with having; it is part of the fullness of life to encounter God in all forms- not just those that bring us peace. But ultimately, there is beauty and such hope in knowing that after the journey of encountering God in ways that make you feel lost, and a stranger to yourself and your world, God will still show up, with a fanny pack and plastic water bottle, and welcome you home. 

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