My heart craved some extended time with God this morning. The last few weeks have been fun and full of adventure… But they have not allowed for my regular spiritual discipline of Friday morning walks with God. Until today.
So, when I had finished eating breakfast and packing my bag, I decided to target an unfamiliar geological feature of the Rocky Mountain National Park: labeled on my map as Steep Mountain. I’ve never really heard of others attempting this hike. Still, I thought it might be fun to try it. Mostly because it’s there: within striking distance of our home base at the YMCA of the Rockies.
Furthermore, it didn’t seem like it should be that difficult of a hike. I figured I should be able to follow the ridge of the South Lateral Moraine, from East to West, for about three miles. This would allow me to gradually gain elevation until the South Lateral Moraine butted up against Steep Mountain, maybe half-way up the total rise of the mountain, and then I could pick my path to the summit from there.
And indeed, the walk along that low ridge was lovely. It was lightly forested, allowing for a mix of sun and shade. And the wider openings in the forest provided abundant views of Moraine Park and the Mummy Range off to the right and views of Long’s Peak and the Continental Divide off to the left.
As I walked this section of the hike, my heart welled up with praise. I felt thankful to God for His Creation… His Provision… His Salvation… and His nearness. Even though it had been a few weeks since our last full Friday morning together, it felt like we hadn’t missed a step. I thought of the phrase, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”
As I got closer to Steep Mountain, though, I noticed some blackened trees, toppled along the top of the ridge. I had to zig-zag around them to keep making progress. Even so, I kept hiking, getting closer to Steep Mountain. And the more I hiked, the more blackened trees I discovered. These trees were the scars of a forest fire that came through this area in 2020. It was sobering to see the damage, and my prayers shifted through this section of the hike. My mind was brought to people I’ve known and loved who have died. Or who are dying. Or who have walked away from the Christian faith over the years. My heart felt heavy. Still, I continued to pray and sensed God’s nearness in this, too.
When I reached the end of the South Lateral Moraine and started up Steep Mountain, I realized just how much Steep Mountain lived up to its name. It was hands-and-feet clamoring and climbing. Nothing too dangerous or too exposed. But it just sucked the breath from my lungs. And during this stretch of intense incline, there was very little to look at. No grand mountain vistas; just endless boulders and scrubby vegetation (minimally affected by the forest fire) at a steep, steep angle. I didn’t think of it until after the fact, but this scramble up the side of Steep Mountain was kind of like a metaphor for this last semester of ministry with H2O Church at Kent State University. A lot of work. An unsustainable level of effort. Exhaustion. And very little time or space for reflection or prayer. The last 500 feet of elevation gain were particularly difficult.
Finally, though, things leveled off and opened up again towards the summit. And as my breathing started to return to normal, I resumed my time of prayer and communion with God. From the top of Steep Mountain, to the East I could see all of the South Lateral Moraine and my route of ascent. Further to the West, I could see the wide swath of destruction that had been caused by the forest fire (which also extended to a few areas to the East of Steep Mountain). But it was all so beautiful. Even the scars on the landscape.
On top of Steep Mountain, I felt God beckoning me to trust Him. To remain in Him. To look for spaces in which I can rest in Him, even when the mountain gets steep. My view on the way to and from the top of Steep Mountain reminded me that there will be losses and death. But there will also be renewal and rebirth. And as long as I stay focused on walking with my Creator, I will be in the right place.