by Greg Cochran
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 natural formation called Shiprock. And more specifically to the natural rock wall adjacent to Shiprock.First, a little background: With Baltimore pilgrims loaded into their 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—Shiprock our destination. 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, so I immediately headed for the top of the rock wall formation. I was not disappointed. Once I reached the precipice, the view was spectacular: to the east and to the west, flat land interrupted only by mesas in the very distant horizons. On this precipice, it was my inward view which came most fully into focus. As, I gazed eastward, I looked out over vast lands from where I journeyed. I know the east well…I’ve traveled it and 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. These moments are given as gifts from God. 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 offered?Horizons are beautiful, but if we continually gaze upon the horizons of our dreams, our calling, of our past, they will always remain the horizons—at times seemingly overwhelming with the illusion that we are making no progress. Paralysis may set in; discouragement desires to become the guide; anxiety our companion. We may lose ourselves in “what could have been” or in the security of “how we like it” and settle for safety and comfortableness, losing 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 for God; of past experiences of “God with us”—we come to trust that the horizons are always with us. We can then focus on the “next step” of possibilities in our journey. We can move forward in the knowledge of and with the trust of God’s presence and guidance. The west becomes the east for us, a part of what we know and 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 granted to us. God help us to give thanks for the rock walls and flatlands in our lives. God help us to keep our gaze on the One who loves us best and most deeply.
And God give us strength to walk away from the temptations that anxiety whispers and to embrace the possibilities of land uncharted with trust and faith in God as our guide. Give us courage to move off the cusp of what overwhelms us—one step at a time.
Greg is a recent graduate of Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program.