When my wife and I moved to a new apartment on our school’s campus, we found ourselves about a half-mile down a large hill from where we both work and attend classes. From the get-go, we made a point of refusing to drive our car but instead walking to and from class. Because we’re on different schedules this means that most mornings I find myself walking up the hill alone.
The Tuka Dika Native American tribe of Northern Idaho had no word in their language for “wilderness”. For them there was no outside and inside; the world was all connected. It was only when “sophistication” arrived on the scene that lines were drawn between the two spheres. Because everyone knows Eden was climate controlled and the Sermon on the Mount was delivered in a covered arena.
Not long afterwards my parents were forced to walk to school, uphill both ways and through the snow. Thankfully humankind has progressed since then, now we drive. And sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we as a race will ever walk uphill again. We’ve reached the mountaintop of progress and the sun is setting. We’re not breathing hard because we didn’t exert any effort to get here; we drove the family minivan. We’re not feeling the weight of another day bearing down and settling into rest because we’ve injected five cups of coffee into our system. And we’re not looking at the sunset. We’re on our phone telling someone else somewhere else about the beautiful view, right there from atop the mountain. And it’s all downhill from here. We’ve doomed ourselves to convenience, separation.
I never used to wear gloves for my morning commute. Because even when temperatures were well below zero they weren’t necessary for the short trip form my apartment to my car where the heat would be cranking at full steam. But on my first morning strolling to class without them I noticed that exposed skin can become something of a painful experience. A ridiculously common-sensical thing to notice, but before there’d been no need.
There are some who believe the world is doomed for destruction, that in the end of all things God will purge the entire globe, throw it away like a used Kleenex. The chosen are redeemed, what further purpose could it serve?
But when I walk to class and consider this prospect I look around me at a thousand objections. The snowflakes rest peacefully on the dormant ground below them, a breeze pushes itself through the branches, tickling the dry winter air. Frost bites the tips of the pine tree above my head and beckons it to sleep, wait. He will come like a thief in the nighttime of spring and the new earth descending out of the clouds will sound the trumpet of renewal, transformation and redemption. I look around me and I see desperation joining hope floating as unsaid prayers like my breath in the crisp morning. I look around me and I see, as C.S. Lewis so memorably and famously penned, shadows of the magnificence to come.
But God, how can you begin the task of taking our pollution, our nuclear fallouts, our dumps, our hate, our prejudice, our pain… how can you even begin to contemplate taking all that and transforming all of it into the purity and peace of a single snowflake drifting to rest in front of my eyes? Why not just draw a line between the holy unreachable and the world. Why not throw it away when you’re done here? You can sew up the temple curtain; I’m sure it’s not too late. There are needles of divine convenience I’m sure you could use.
Sometimes I can’t help but look around me and think about what a beautiful, screwed up world we live in. It’s the complication that makes me believe it to be ordained by an Intricate and Loving Deity.
And I want to feel it. I want to feel the pulse of the seasons, like a thousand brilliant heartbeats dancing to the tune of a homesick romance all around me. Like an actor after preparing for his show, I live on a stage. The stage is my home and home is a complicated thing. It’s not perfect; the director isn’t done. But it’s so much more than the stage for my redemption. The story is much more complicated, constant. It’s unlike any I’ve ever heard. There’s too much beauty and truth around me to disregard that fact.
And so that’s why, lately, I’ve taken to walking to class. I wear gloves and a coat and most often a hat because the world is telling me to bundle up. It’s cold outside. It’s cruel, brilliant and cold. And I see it every day as I walk to class. Uphill, both ways.