Thursday, July 2, 2015

Smooth Places

My wife and I traveled to Alaska about 4 years ago in July/August.  If I had to describe Alaska I  would include the words big and wild, and wide and beautiful.  We saw some fantastic sights while we were there; an ocean full of ice; calving glaciers; a mother grizzly and her cubs; moose; caribou; spouting whales; and mountains so tall that they make the Blue Ridge look like a bump in the road.

The people who live in Alaska year round are different from the people who go to Alaska on vacation.  In my opinion, they are the remnants of the American pioneers who left the East and traveled hundreds of miles to the West and settled in places where there were no support systems.  They had to rely on themselves and their own skills.  And where they lacked knowledge and skill, they had to be creative and invent new ways of doing things.  Or, they had to do without.

When I asked year round residents if they liked living there, without fail, all of them told me they loved it.  Even though roads are not plentiful; even though many people's homes are off the power grid; even though 32 feet of snow may pile up in their yard and on the roofs of their homes; even though many of them cannot just call the plumber when a pipe ruptures; even though neighbors are many miles away and visitors are scarce; they love it.

And I started thinking, why do all the people who live there love it?  And I think it is because all of the people who went there who did not love it have left.  The Alaskan life is not for everyone.  You may go there and wish you could live there, but when you try it, you find that you are not up to the challenge.  Alaska is beautiful, but behind that beauty lies all of the terrible forces that have shaped that land into what it is.  But most people cannot see these things.

One of my earliest memories of my father is of him standing in front of his bedroom mirror shirtless, swinging a baseball bat over and over, watching every nuance of his swing.  People used to talk of his beautiful, natural swing, but none of them ever saw him work in front of the mirror.  They never saw the forces in his life that shaped his love for baseball; the loss of his mother at age 10, a father who could not care for his children.  The baseball diamond was where he found love and friendship.  It became his father and his mother.

Sometimes we see a person who has a great spirituality and we want what they have.  But behind that spirituality often lies a great price; a life of suffering and hardship.  I am reminded of Matthew 20 in which Jesus tells James and John that they do not know what they are asking for when they ask to sit at his right hand in his kingdom.  He asks them if they are prepared to go through the same things that he will have to go through and they answer, yes.  We are able.  And Jesus tells them that he cannot grant this, but such places are granted to those that God has prepared.

Our tour guide told us a story about the moose in Alaska.  They are attracted to the paved roads because they are smooth and warm.  They like to lay down on them and sleep and are soon covered by snow.  Cars, traveling along the roads, especially at night, cannot see these huge animals.  Many cars have been wrecked and people injured and killed because they were not prepared for what lay ahead.

We are all in search of God, whether we realize it or not.  We may look for God in places of comfort, places of great beauty, or places of peace.  Warm spots in the road.  But maybe God can be found in the simple things of our everyday lives; like watering the garden, or mowing the grass.  Maybe the peace and the beauty we are looking for are right here in front of us.