Friday, July 6, 2012

Hiking to Hell and Back

Now that I've reached my first day off as a pastor, I have some time to share my experiences from my vacation the last two weeks of June.

My Father, for the last 30ish years, has taken a group of high school juniors and seniors out West to experience the majesty of the mountains.  By his own admission, he started the program as a 26 year old high school chemistry teacher mostly as a way to finance a vacation for himself, but, as God does, it has been transformed into a spiritual juggernaut of a trip that annually sees 90 some high schoolers and 30 some adults make the trek West each year.

Daily Mass is offered in the mountains (or at the Canyon) and every evening sees a spiritual reflection by a staff member around a campfire, often with an opportunity for young people to share their own insights as well.

As anyone who has traveled through the mountains can tell you, simply being in that environment seems to encourage spiritual reflection on God, His creation, mankind's place in that creation, etc.

This year, our trip took us to the Grand Canyon, and one of the highlights of the trip was the "Rim to Rim" hike.  This is a 26 mile ordeal where we started at the North Rim of the Canyon, hiked down 10 miles to the Canyon floor, hiked about 6 miles across the Canyon floor, and then hiked about 10 miles out of the Canyon.  This year we were blessed with a cool day as it "only" reached 106 degrees on the Canyon floor (it can get up to 130).  This year we started at about 1 am in order to avoid the worst of the heat.  We had 54 in our group, and everybody made it across this year in about twelve and a half hours, which was awesome!

Here's a photo at about 5 am on the Canyon floor, trying to look like I'm not sleep walking and putting on a happy face for the kids!

The crazy thing about the cross Canyon hike is that when you do it, you hike through about 6 million years (some geologists argue for up to 17 million years) of geological record.  Thinking about that is mind blowing, and it gets one thinking about how brief a human life is in relation to Creation, and the Psalm that popped into my head over and over as I was hiking through the Canyon is Psalm 8:

"When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place - What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor."  

Hiking through 6 million years of historical record, and then back out again, the Psalmist gets it exactly right - "Lord, who are we that you care for us?  Our life is over like a passing shadow (Psalm 144), yet you have made us little less than gods!"

The Psalmist (of course) nails it perfectly and succinctly - he notes that this question of "who am I" is more easily asked precisely "When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers..." it is easier to ask "Who am I?" precisely when we are in nature and looking at big, old, beautiful, natural things that we are more apt to be blown away by what God has done.

Another way of asking the same question - "What wondrous love is this" that you extend to us as humans?

It is yet another irony - nature shows us how historically and naturally insignificant and brief we are, and once we realize our natural INSIGNIFICANCE, we can be blown away by how eternally and supernaturally SIGNIFICANT God has willed us to be.  It is truly miraculous - when we are dwarfed by mountains and canyons, the dwarfing can aid us in, perhaps for the first time, realizing our true worth and significance.

Here is some beautiful footage of the Canyon.  If you've never been to the Canyon or to the mountains, save your pennies, plan ahead, do whatever it takes to spend some time being reminded of who and what you are!

Cineflex- Grand Canyon from Aerial Filmworks on Vimeo.


  1. Father, Why did you title this blog post as Hiking to Hell and Back. You mention nothing in the post regarding hell, or if there is a site in the Canyon named Hell. Why then did you title the post that way?

  2. I titled it that way because, first of all, the hike is hellacious - 26 miles, 10,000 feet of elevation change, 106 degrees at the bottom, hiking all night, etc. I also titled it that because realizing how small and insignificant we are is hellish, but when we realize what God has elevated us to despite our smallness, it is like being brought back from that hellish realization to a new and redeemed reality