On the Mesa with God

God and I began our hike at the arroyo behind the museums at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.  I was not particularly aware of my Companion as my boots imprinted themselves on the fine sand.  It was a hot day, for which I prepared by soaking my shirt and handkerchief in water.  Zig-zagged up the trail of pale dust, then along a ridge stippled with rocks, spiky yucca, and scrubby junipers.  The vast gouge of the Piedra Lumbre basin appeared to the west, streaked with layers of red sediment.  The yellow-orange walls of the canyons above Ghost Ranch to the east glowed in the roaring sun.  Clouds slowly boiled out of pale mist high in the northern sky.  Shadowed cliffs radiated back-lit color.  I turned my slack-jawed head one way to drink in the beauty, then turned, turned again, and on returning my gaze discovered fresh aspects of light and shadow: never the same view twice.
I have taken this hike many times.  I could say that I know it well.  But to know it is not to know it.  To know it is to release my recollections, assumptions, definitions, and descriptions every time I walk it.  And upon arriving at this awareness of my ignorance, about half-way up the mesa, I awoke again to the Divine Presence walking with me.
When I gave up my ideas of what I was doing and seeing, when I was thoroughly boggled and blown away from my smug sense of familiarity, I saw that God was doing the watching.  God was appreciating the hike to Chimney Rock through me, taking in the sights, the air, the sound of the wind and the crying swallows.  Through me, God was celebrating Godself.  What I had neatly packaged into words was now fully present in its raw reality.  Just there.  Really there.  On its own terms, not mine.  The shapes and colors of the land-forms were palpably latent with unfathomable mystery.
At the top, God and I sat down and gazed at the pillar Chimney Rock, framed from behind by the dark and distant flat-topped peak of Pedernal.  To the south were successively lighter blue mountains behind mountains.  The steeply sloping line of one of those layers, perhaps fifty miles away, drew itself into my soul and vibrated with silent music, alluring my imagination beyond and around it.  It thrust me instantly into my childhood enthrallment at seeing the blue shadows of the Rocky Mountains for the first time when my family drove from East to West.  Thank you, God!  My lifetime and the layers of geological time laid out before us in the vast landscape were conflated into the eternal Divine Now.
In what I call a shadow of what I call a gnarled juniper, God and I sat on the mesa-top and gazed in contemplation.  I would conjure a categorization; God would ponder it lovingly and release it so that I could go deeper in wonder-filled appreciation of that which I had categorized.  Giddy with our exchange, delighting in our companionship, I laughed.  I went giddy with three hundred and sixty degrees of endlessly-changing spectacles bombarding and baffling my sensorium.
Walking back down, God and I richly enjoyed the details of the plants and stones around us, made especially vivid by the thin air at 7,000 feet.  I was so other-focused that for a moment I wondered what was moving.  My body, or the trail?  Us, or the junipers?  God and I engaged in exclamation:  “Check this out!”  “Check that out!”
Friendship at its best.
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Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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