A few years back now, we took a family trip to the Four Corners region of the country. This was when the kids were still small enough to not sigh heavily at the thought of being trapped with their parents for weeks at a time in a vehicle hurtling down isolated highways in the middle of what they would now term nowhere (n., any place where there is not wi-fi and five bars of cellphone reception).
My husband grew up in this part of the country, and over the years as we travelled to visit his family, I grew to stop gasping for air in the altitude and to adore the broad, open vistas that were so similar and yet so different from the plains of western Oklahoma where my family lived. I learned to pack as if I was going to Alaska and to Borneo, since the temperature can and does swing sixty degrees within one single day.
Our vacations are often a combination of camping and hotelling, since there is something to be said for air conditioning and hot showers on occasion. But we also like to see the country through which we travel, and our children actually find sleeping in their own tent quite an adventure. One day in particular, we left behind the habit we sometimes can fall into of planning everything to the smallest detail, and began a meandering journey through the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument. High altitude meadows interspersed with red rock canyons, and it yet it is enough off the beaten path that we could often be by ourselves out on a trail.
We took a lot of family-friendly hikes during that trip. At one point, however, we had not only seen everything there was to see within ten miles, but the sun had gone down. It was supposed to be a camping night, but the winding state highway we were traversing seemed to switch back and forth over terrain that didn’t seem to have any likely spots to camp. In fact, the part of Utah we were in looked like a desolate moonscape from an Apollo mission, except that the air and the pavement was still sizzling hot. Suddenly, around a bend we saw a small sign off to one side- “Calf Creek Campground,” it stated. We knew we wouldn’t get another chance to find a campsite before all reasonable hosts would be in bed, so we threw caution to the non-existent wind and pulled in. We descended a couple of dozen feet almost immediately, and rock walls rose up on either side, making it even darker on the road. The hosts were gracious and told us there were only two sites left, and to take whichever one we found first. After winding around for ten minutes we were beginning to wonder if the hosts were mistaken. Every campsite seemed occupied. At last, we found an empty spot at what seemed like the very end. We woke up the kids and quickly began pitching our two tents, storing our food safely, placing ropes around the tents on the ground “to keep away the snakes,” which really doesn’t work, but made the kids feel better. After everything was set up, we feel into a completely exhausted slumber.
The next morning my son was the first one up, and he immediately pulled us all outside. We were in a beautiful, verdant wonderland! There was the eponymous creek trickling nearby, with pools lined with flowers and grasses. Dragonflies danced along the tops of cattails like stilt-walkers. Small birds darted about. Oval windows and rooms had been etched into the rocks, and some showed signs of being home to owls and perhaps bats. It was amazing! And we had stumbled across it blindly. It ended up being one of the most beautiful places we stayed during that entire trip, and we would never have found it if the journey had not been as important to us as the destination.
I think St. Paul is describing the same thing when he makes the point about our journey of faith in our reading from 2 Corinthians today. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” There is no easy path of faith for those of us who did not live during the time of the apostles. Paul himself was constantly having to defend his bona fides since he not only had not been one of the Twelve, but had persecuted the Church before his own eyes were opened as he travelled along a road. Paul is like us in that he did not get to sit at the feet of Christ physically, but came to faith through a less–direct, some would say even improbable journey.
As Christians in Paul’s time or our own, we hold to something so fantastic, so counter-cultural that a great part of society thinks us fools, at best, or delusional, at worst. People try to trip us up sometimes by asking us questions about heaven or hell and who we think is going to either place, as if salvation can be summed up by a mere destination. To many of us, such questions are uninteresting but can also lead people astray. Through Christ, our salvation begins now, in the journey through life, even when we have to grope our way against our fears and jealousies. The path we are called to walk by faith, as Christians, is not about the destination. It’s not about setting our eyes upon the next world, but about building the kingdom of God right here, right now in this beautiful world that is the handiwork of our Creator.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” The life of faith is all about walking in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. But even more importantly than that, at the same time He called us to do the same, and walk in love for each other. The life of faith means taking blind corners, guided by the knowledge that Christ calls us to be transformed into people who are willing to be led even when the way ahead is unclear and everyone else seems to be going a different direction. It means allowing ourselves to be led by the gossamer strands of faith to a place we cannot see, and trying to live out the gospel of love in a world all too inclined to divide itself into opposing camps where everyone who is different is an enemy. As we walk by faith, not by sight, we may feel that we have been set down in desolate spots at times. Then the morning comes, and we behold the wonders of heaven, right beneath our feet.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image by Leslie Scoopmire