Saturday, March 09, 2013

NH 4000 Footer Essay (Pt. 5): Hiking Paths and Moments of Transfiguration

What follows is part five of a five-part essay I'm writing for the NH 4000 Footer Club.  You can find part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here.

From Zeacliff in early morning fog, August 2012.
It's good to be almost done with this thing... it took me over eight years to hike all of New Hampshire's forty-eight four thousand foot mountains, and at a number of points, it felt like it might take nearly as long to write this essay.  But here am I, sitting in Queens nursing a coffee and looking at a blank screen nearly six months after summitting Mount Carrigain, trying to figure out how to conclude... how to write part five of five.  My general thesis when I started this whole thing, as stated in part one was: "the paths we trod in life simply serve as vehicles through which we realize the growth (or potential for growth) already stirring within and around us," an idea I still agree with.  Another key point I made in part one concerned the presence of God in the mountains: "Unfortunately, while I often marveled at Her handiwork during my mountaintop experiences, God Herself didn't seem to really want to show up... or at least it felt that way."

The path up Bondcliff, August 2012.
While I did find God over my many hikes in the Whites, although as typical, She didn't show up where I expected.  And actually, it shouldn't be all that surprising that God was around in the mountains... think about how much Jesus liked hanging out on them.  The Sermon on the Mount was well, preached from a mount.  On the night of his betrayal, shortly before his death and resurrection, Jesus visits the Mount of Olives.  Perhaps the most amazing story of Christ on the mountaintop however is the The Transfiguration.  Referenced in three of the four canonical gospels (and perhaps referenced in the other), the transfiguration is the story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up an unnamed mountain and becoming ablaze in a bright light, shining with all the glory of God.  Elijah and Moses then decide to show up as well.  From one perspective, its the moment where God most revels Herself in Christ to humankind.  Predictably humankind however can't handle God in all Her glory... Peter tries to control the situation and asks to make three tents for Elijah, Moses and Jesus so the moment can last longer.  Before Peter really even finishes making his proposition, God proclaims, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  The disciples fall to the ground, and when they get up, the moment is over... Elijah and Moses are gone and Jesus is back to normal.

What I've realized, is that in a more limited sense, moments of transfiguration happen all the time in the mountains.  They're fleeting and impossible to seek out yes, but they're there, and for me at least, these moments of transfiguration don't come from gazing at the beauty of the forest or far reaching vistas... they take place in momentary and miraculous connection with the Other.  Said in less theological student language, I experience the glory of God in the mountains in moments of deep connection with another human being.  Christ is not only the intermediary between humankind and God, but also between us all... the brief moments when we see Christ in others are the only times when we can truly connect, when we can truly know what another person is all about.  And for me, these moments of transfiguration, these moments when the glory of God even in a limited way shows up in the face of another human being, are most likely to take place while atop the high places of creation.

Atop Bondcliff, August 2012.
Working with Calumet campers at the Mizpah Springs Hut, hiking the Southern Presidentials with a loved one and summiting Mount Isolation with a best friend... there were transfiguration moments on those paths.  Taking a short stroll to the top of Cannon Mountain after my first week of seminary with another close friend, essentially climbing up a waterfall with three folks to bag Moosilauke during one of the best months of my life, conquering the horseshoe of the Northern Presidentials with my brother... there were transfiguration moments on those paths.  And while hiking alone but also while waiting out a late summer storm in the Guyot Shelter with two middle-aged women who couldn't have been more in love and while speaking with an eighty year old man near the summit of Owl's Head who had just bagged his last 4000 footer with his adult son... there were transfiguration moments on those paths.

I had many moments of transfiguration while hiking the many paths and summits of New Hampshire's White Mountains, moments where I saw the glory of God in the face of the Other.  And all these moments of transfiguration helped me realize the growth that was taking place within and all around me.  And because of all these moments of transfiguration, I am truly blessed.

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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