Thanksgiving is over and it was fun this year. We did kind of miss watching watching “Christmas Vacation” which we’ve kicked off every Christmas season wth on Thanksgiving Day since it came out on VHS in 1990, but with my brother-in-law confined to the lower floor of the house where there’s not room to spread out and enjoy it, we opted to let it go for the first time. (For some it’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, for us it’s watching Chevy Chase trying to light every square inch of his house with twinkle lights!)
It’s 8:30 and Drollery and Bran are still asleep. I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journal entries again. Today he was writing about “Experiences of Seeing,” those rare instances — gifts really — of heightened senses when everything around you loses itself in a surreal moment. For him it was the way the dawn light filtered into the chapel during mass, watching a little mouse scurrying toward a hole in the garden wall, and a hawk spreading its wings lifted on pure beams of sunlight. Where do those moments of clarity come from? How do they happen?
I can recall very clearly four times I experienced such awe — for that’s really what it made me feel like. At one of our women’s retreats one fall during compline (around 10 p.m.) after our committee had finished decorating the little chapel at Our Lady of the Mountain Retreat House, Claire Heersink and I carried a bunch of boxes out to the car to stow for the evening. And there on the mountain above the retreat grounds shone the most brilliant white light either of us had ever seen. We were flabbergasted, and for the life of us couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. It was a like a hundred spot lights were aimed at the sucker. All we could do was stand and stare. Totally surreal. We both searched the newspaper for days to see if there was an explanation for it, but we never found anything about it.
A few years later our family was driving up through Yosemite National Park. We’d left the hotel early and were just coming through the park as the sun was peeking over the mountains. Trumpeter Phil Driscoll was playing in the tape deck, and as we came around a bend in the road the first rays of sun were just hitting El Capitan as Driscoll bellowed out in his gravelly voice: “I exalt thee. I exalt thee. I exalt thee, oh Lord!” All four of us were so caught up in the moment it felt as if we were driving through the gates of heaven!
The third time (now don’t laugh — remember, God is everywhere!) was in an outhouse at the top of the mountain pass driving over to Denver. A storm was moving in fast and we were worried about getting down the other side. I had just finished my “business transaction”. 😀 when this booming peal of thunder hit that little metal fortress and bounced from one wall of that building to the other all around me. I felt like I was sitting in a bloomin’ bell! I would be tempted to say it scared the “carp” out of me except that had already been taken care of!. 😉 I fully expected to step out of there and see that mountain pass split in two. Man what a rush!!!
The last time was coming back from that same trip. It was the first glimpse of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I had seen it when I was six, and the wonder of it had never left me. My reaction this time was just plain stupor and I said to Drollery, “Who could have carved that?!!” (The Indians believed a big bear did!) I can honestly say I’ve never seen a man-made structure to equal it’s beauty — and weirdness!
I find it interesting that all four of these moments of clarity had to do with mountains. That’s truly strange considering I’m most at home in a forest or by the sea. And yet there’s something about the mountains. I look out our kitchen window and see the Wasatch range and realize how high the heavens are and how much room I have to breathe, and I am comforted. When I go home to Ohio, there ARE no mountains, and often I feel like I’m suffocating. Psalm 121:1 comes to mind just now. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?”
I find myself wondering if these times really are just special gifts, or is it that our eyes are simply not trained to notice the miraculous in our everyday life? Whether you’re a person of any faith or not, these moments belong to all of us. A favorite quote of mine is from British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. He said:
…every happening, great or small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us; and the art of life is to get the message.