When the Clouds Part – and how to part them.
Muir loved not just being outside, but being outside in weather; storms, wind, snow. He felt that the mountains spoke powerfully during such times, and that the very act of listening would be transformative for him.
“Let the sea roar, and all its creatures, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing aloud together before the Lord; for God comes to judge the earth. The Lord will judge the earth with righteousness and the peoples in justice.” (Psalm 98:7-9)
The mountains and sky are toying with me, and I keep running up the trail, higher, higher, in search of clarity, until the darkness overtakes and all hope of seeing is gone, at least until morning. Then, armed with headlamp and iphone as torches, a retreat to the car over stones, streams, steps, and roots. The darkness is thick by the time I’m back at the car and make my way home to aromas of onions and the warmth of a fire and I ponder that the run was good, not just for my body, but for my spirit too.
The clouds of war, torture, economic injustice and racism are all around us these days. It’s a fog, born of greed and lust for power, laced with violence. Though thick, the fog isn’t new, having been with us from the beginning of the tragedy and beauty that is our story. And yet, always, the clouds have parted. Yes, there was Auschwitz, and stories that nobody believed because darkness couldn’t be that dark. But when the clouds parted there was Sophie Scholl, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, courageous resistance work and prayer meetings. Yes there was apartheid. But light broke through. His name was Mandela. Yes, there was genocide, but there’s been a reconciliation movement in which the brightness of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation wash over the past like first snow.
As the clouds of Isis, school shootings, human trafficking, and a refugee crisis that will change Europe forever, it’s vital to remember what kind of world exists, already, because of what Christ did on the cross. When he said, “it’s finished” he didn’t just mean that he was finished breathing, he meant that the destiny of history as a place of death and despair was over. Isaiah foretold it:
He spoke of a time of peace, when all wars and oppression would be done with
He spoke of time of environmental restoration, so that this groaning earth would groan no more.
He spoke of a vast banquet, symbolic of abundance and joy, where every tear would be dried from every eye, and death would be done away with for good
He spoke of profound healing of bodies
He spoke of justice, so that a man who plants can enjoy the fruit of his own labor.
As Christ-followers, it’s no good being glum, down in the mouth, and cynical about politicians, systems, and economies. That doesn’t do much good for anyone. On the other hand, those who believe that behind the clouds there’s a glory, become people who point the way. They encourage people to make snow right where they are, to cover sadness and failure, shame and greed, fear and addiction – cover it all with the freedom found in Christ.
It starts, of course, with believing that there’s something hopeful there, behind the fog. But it requires more than that – it requires a commitment to embody that hope and, like John Muir, get people out there into the wild places where hope is visible so that they can see it for themselves.
And all of this, of course, requires that we keep showing up. Dozens of times I’ve brought people to places in the wild in hopes of showing them the view, only to have it shrouded in fog. “Come back tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that” I’ll say, “and you’ll see it for sure!” Likewise, I’m always on the lookout for Christ’s hope, in the generosity of a friend, in a community surrounding a beloved during their time of death, in the birth of a new child, in the remarkable signs of peace that the news never shows.
We need to keep showing up and keep looking. When we do, sometimes the clouds part and we found hope, which means we can become hope, which means clarity, blessing, joy – not just for ourselves, but others too.
That hope, more than for the health of my heart, is why I run in the mountains.