A Big Surprise

Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. ~ Exodus 20:8

After a late start from Mancos, I drove into the Needles Campground parking lot at Canyonlands National Park in the midafternoon. I found a parking spot sandwiched between a new Jeep Wrangler from California and a Subaru from British Columbia. I thought, “It’s good to be local. I’ll be home in a few hours after the sun sets.”

I put on sunscreen, changed my sandals out for walking shoes, and I drank several ounces of water from my Nalgene bottle. There was a slight breeze, but it was a cloudless, sunny day. It was going to be a hot hike. I refilled my water bottle at the pump at the end of the parking lot and then I took off into the high desert solitude, alone with the rock spires of myth and legend, and the small lizards darting across the sand.

I walked quickly over the trail traversing the wide and long desert meadow. Bright orange globe mallow flowers climbed over each other like ants and purple claret cup cactus were in full bloom. I did not stop to soak in their beauty. I wanted to finish the loop in a hurry and get back home. I had “miles to go before I could sleep.”

As I tried to pick up my pace, my feet sank into the soft sand. It felt like I was walking in water, but I pushed on. My mind said go and my body said stop. I climbed up a rock ledge and saw a woman sitting in the shade of a pinyon tree. “Hello,” she said. “Hey,” I said as I continued my brisk walk. “Enjoy your day,” she said.

Enjoy my day… I reached the bottom of the rock outcropping and started walking up the next slick rock face. Enjoy my day…

Do we take time to enjoy a day? Do we take time to revel in the beauty of creation? Time to see, to smell, and to experience grace blooming within us and all around us? Do we slow down and see the divine and beautiful? Does beauty save us?

“Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else. We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which feed our illusion that life is manageable,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor.

I walked up the dry creek bed and entered Wooden Shoe Canyon. Towering red rock walls closed in on me as the sun dropped in the late afternoon sky. Five more miles and I would be back in my car. I was racing the sun in the middle of paradise.

Thomas Merton wrote, “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”

Pinyon, juniper, and cottonwoods laced the canyon floor in shades of green. I walked up and up the desert forest until it gave way to rolling hills of slick rock. I hoofed up one sandstone wall after another, oblivious to my surroundings. I was making good time.

I crossed underneath an overhanging cliff and turned a corner and bumped into two women from Denver with full packs on heading down the canyon. “Did you all camp out last night?” I asked. “Yes, Chesler Park. Beautiful. Absolutely amazing.”

“Have a good day,” I said as I took off again. One of the women said to me, “There’s a surprise up ahead. You’re going to like it.” “What is it?” I asked. “A ten-foot lizard?” “No, better. You’ll know when you see it,” she said.

I picked my way up the final ascent of Wooden Shoe Canyon to where it descends into Big Spring Canyon. I stopped to catch my breath. Before me were miles and miles of slot canyons, a maze of wonder and beauty framed beneath the blue sky and the snow-covered La Sal Mountains to the east. I caught my breath again and stopped to look more deeply for the first time.

“The big surprise,” I said to myself. “This must be heaven on earth.” My soul rejoiced.

In my haste to finish the loop, I wondered how much I missed. Why was I in a hurry? How fast do we live life?

Wayne Muller says, “We do not have time to savor this life, nor to care deeply and gently for ourselves, our loved ones, or our world.” Instead, we try to move faster and faster and get more and more done. Does divine grace reside within each moment?

“Remember the sabbath and keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8).

“Sabbath gives us permission; it commands us to stop,” says Muller. In Sabbath we remember to delight in life. We remember to stop and offer thanks for it. We breathe in beauty and let God’s creation touch us with healing energy. We eat manna from heaven and drink living water.

Sabbath restores our souls. We can take a Sabbath day, an afternoon, a moment, or a Sabbath walk. “Anything that preserves a visceral experience of life-giving nourishment and rest” is Sabbath writes Muller.

May we find rest, renewal, and delight in the busy lives we live. May we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Blessings and peace,

Craig