Some philosophical observations from last month's trip to the Grand Canyon...
We went to Yalapai Point last night to see the sunset. We found a spot by a photographer who had set up his tripod, waiting, watching the light change, anticipating his shot. As we sat down, a tour bus of Japanese tourists emptied out and thirty or so chattering Japanese people surrounded us, forcing the photographer to move his shot elsewhere.
We humans always tend to crowd toward the edges of life - live in the huge cities on the coasts when the middle is barely settled, travel long distances to see ocean meet land and land collapse into canyon. We congregate on either end of the political spectrum, take up with those who offer certain, one-sided religious truth, insist on contrast, comparison and argument. We long for the order, the pattern, the distinctiveness we find at the edges: I am this; you are that. We are here; you are there. I am right; you are wrong.
I am sitting on solid, rocky ground and ten feet away is a very un-solid, empty chasm. I would notice a striking difference should I try to go from one to the other.
But in the striking contrasts, we miss the subtle differences. My mountains at home are certainly no Colorado Rockies or Grand Canyon, but they've been mellowed and wisened by time and the elements. Their beauty lies in the way they rise gradually and naturally from the valleys.
Life is chaos. This order of the edges is striking, illuminating, strangely comforting. But it is, in the end, too dangerous to sustain. People fall off of cliffs. 250 people have to be rescued from the depths of this canyon each year. We can sit here at the edge, impressed and awed, but it leaves us immobilized. All I can do from here is stare into that wide, deep hole.
The subtlety of chaos, if we accept it, is different. Like the Blue Ridge, we learn through time and the elements that living in harmony is better, easier, truer. Even this canyon is being worn away. Boulders fall, cliffs collapse and the edges are being sanded slowly away, curved and polished by the elements of life, by the chaos that reigns here on earth.
Ranger Bob said last night that Michaelangelo once said he would never reach heaven unless raised there by beauty. Is this beauty? Perhaps, but it is an arrogant beauty, an impetuous display of grandeur. The weathered green rolling mountains, who know the earth's secrets and have learned to weather the storms, accept the unknown and live on in the midst of unknowing...that is beautiful. May that beauty lift me.
"God is there," people kept telling me. "You'll never feel as close to God in your life," said Mary Frances, Sunday at Wendy's. Russell's See You in a Few Months CD ends with Bob Dylan's tribute to Woody Guthrie, and I think this might be truer - here in this place is God alongside insanity. Choose. It's an either/or, a right or wrong, an order of the edges kind of choice. And those kinds of choices...well, they don't exist.
God is here, yes. God is everywhere. But here, I feel far away. This is not intimate, close or personal. This is the God of John Calvin, interested but far away, unknowable and unreachable. God, if God is anything, can't be a God of the edges. God is here AND there, God is either AND or, God is right AND wrong.
Is God, then, both the rock on which I sit AND the nothingness a few feet away?
I suppose I have to say yes. God is both. But I'd much rather she were neither. And I know that this is true, too.
We know God only in our unknowing.