Standing on the Precipice

9 01 2011

Although not nearly as dramatic as Jesus being whisked away to the pinnacle of the temple or to the top of a very high mountain where temptation was waiting, in my recent imagination, I have been taken back to the Southwest high desert – in particular to a formation called Shiprock. And more specifically to the natural rock wall adjacent to Shiprock.

Here’s a little background and an attempt at painting a picture (maybe the photos will help the imagination). With the group of Baltimore pilgrims loaded into vans early on a September morning, we drove through the northwestern New Mexico desert in awe of its beauty and in reverence of the spiritual gifts the land and native people offered. We were headed for Shiprock. The Navajo call their sacred place Tse Bitai (“rocks with wings”). This ancient volcanic formation rises 1,800 feet above the high plains floor – out of nowhere – flat land all around save the rock wall that trails off to the south. A dirt road runs parallel to the east side of the wall formation. It was on this bumpy road we drove toward Shiprock until the need for getting back to our hotel later that day out weighed the need to get as close to Shiprock as we could.

Once out of the vehicles, we had a half hour to just “be” in this place. It is in my nature to climb (ask my mom), so I immediately headed for the top of the rock wall formation. I was not disappointed. Once on the precipice, the view was spectacular – to the east and to the west, flat land interrupted only by mesas in the very distant horizons.

It was on this precipice that I was surprised with a refocusing of an inward view. As, I gazed eastward, I looked out over vast lands from where I journeyed. I know the east well…I’ve traveled it…I am familiar with its stories. But I do not know it completely – there are vast spaces still unknown to me in the east – yet, it has been my journey thus far…my heritage and my home. I carry it with me where ever I go.

As I turned westward and looked over the vastness of space before me, I thought, here are places yet to be for me – places I have never been…stories I’ve never heard…opportunities and possibilities unlimited. And here I stand on the cusp. I was exhilarated and afraid at the same time. What will I do with this God-graced metaphor? How will I live into this God-gifted moment?

So it is with our soul’s journey. We come to moments when we stand on the precipice…we are on the cusp. We know where we have been, though we do not know it all – there is more to explore, but it is our heritage and our home…we carry it with us. Then we turn and look out onto new horizons – exhilarated and afraid, but we are drawn to its beauty and its limitless possibilities. What will we do with these moments? How will we live into these gifts? How will we live into these horizons?

Horizons are beautiful, but if we continually gaze upon the horizons of our dreams…our calling or of our past, they will always remain the horizons – at times seemingly overwhelming and with the illusion that we are making no progress…paralysis may set in; discouragement may become the guide; anxiety our companion. At times, losing ourselves in “what could have been” or “how we like it” and we may settle for safety and comfortableness and lose site of the daily gifts given…the gifts of the days ahead. We may forget that we ever stood on the precipice – exhilarated and afraid. However, if our gaze only occasionally catches the horizons – to remind us of their beauty; of our hunger of what can be; of past experiences of “God with us” – we can focus on the “next step” of possibilities in our journey. We can move forward in and with the knowledge and trust of God’s presence and guidance. The west becomes the east for us – a part of what we know…a part of us we will always carry. We just have to move off the cusp…one step at a time.

God help us to be open to the vistas God grants to us; to give thanks for the rock walls and flatlands in our lives; and may God give us courage in moving off the cusp when it is time.





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