Silence Part III: Mark the Spot

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. ~ Mark 1:35 (NJB)

“What are you doing tomorrow?” my son asked. “I think I’m going to hike the West Mancos Trail from Transfer Campground up towards Owen Basin.”

“If you do, look for the trail that leads to the overlook,” Ro said. “Is it marked?” I asked. “No, it’s just a faint path, but you can see it. It’s a mile or two from Transfer and there’s a tree with two nails in it that used to have a sign on it that’s gone now. The view is unworldly. I stop there every time I’m on the West Mancos.”

“Is the sign on the ground?” I asked. “No, it’s gone. I like to think that Clay or Jean Bader, or maybe Betty and Nodie put a little homemade sign up there to mark the spot. Maybe they had lunch on the overlook or just sat there and gazed at Hesperus and listened to the river down below.”

“Maybe… Clay and Jean did graze cattle up there for years. I remember a year or so before Jean passed on when we had our service at Transfer, she told me, ‘This might be my last year to make it up there. I want to see it one more time.’ They loved it up there.”

“I can see them riding their horses on that trail,” Ro said. “Yeah… they might have put that sign up to mark the spot. You know they went by it many times.”

The next morning, I drive up to Transfer, park, and hike down the trail to where it forks. The West Mancos goes left and Transfer Trail goes right into the river basin and Box Canyon. Just a few yards up the West Mancos Trail, a landslide has wiped out a swath of towering trees leaving an eerie path of destruction and chaos. Thankfully, trail crews have forged a new path.

I walk over the moonscape landslide and disappear into the aspen trees which are starting to turn yellow and gold, splashes of color under the blue sky. It’s a windless fall day and after a mile or so of walking through the quiet aspen groves, my breath moves in rhythm to my stride. Spruce trees intermingle with aspen in a thick forest of never-ending life. I admire a gnarled, leaning tree that somehow manages to survive despite disease and storms. I hear but cannot see the West Mancos River rolling through the canyon below.

My mind drifts into a peaceful place and by chance I notice a slight trail bending towards the slope’s edge. I look up and there stands the tree Ro was talking about with two hand driven nails in it. The tree continues to grow. The path leads me to a vast scree field which opens to overwhelming views of Hesperus Mountain and Centennial Peak towering over the canyon. I find a bench crafted from rocks and sit down, alone with my thoughts, mountains, trees, and the river moving below. This is a strangely quiet place. I’m sure that Clay, Jean, Betty, and Nodie (a great cloud of witnesses) sat here before.

Did they renew their souls and find direction from above and within this secluded place? Do we intentionally seek out “lonely places” where God’s spirit renews our hearts, and the inner voice of divine wisdom guides us into the next step in life?

Jesus is on the move. He’s listening, forgiving, and healing people. “He cured many who were sick with diseases of one kind or another” (see Mark 1:34) and he cast out unclean spirits. The demands on his time, his emotions, and his body were great.

How often do we feel overwhelmed by the demands in our lives? How often do we say, “I just can’t get everything done”?

In the middle of constant activity writes Henri Nouwen, we find these quiet words, “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there” (Mark 1:35). “In the center of breathless activity, we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving, we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the midst of action, there is contemplation. And after togetherness, there is solitude,” writes Nouwen.

To pray is “to come to rest” says Wayne Muller. “When Jesus prayed, he was at rest, nourished by the healing spirit that saturates those still quiet places. When the moment for rest had come, the time for healing (working and doing) was over. He would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray.”

What rhythm do we follow in our lives? Do we find quiet places to rest, to pray?

I don’t know what was written on that sign that disappeared from the tree. Maybe it was just an arrow pointing to the overlook. Maybe it said, “View.” Perhaps we should make a sign that says, “A Quiet Place.” “A Lonely Place.”

May we find time to intentionally withdraw from the activity of life and find quiet, lonely places where the Spirit renews our souls and guides our path. Amen.

Blessings and peace,