by Hayne Steen
In 1998, my wife and I hiked in the Sawatch Mountains of central Colorado above the timber line just a few miles from Frontier Ranch in Buena Vista. It was a trip that we'll not soon forget as we witnessed the lives of so many teenagers change right before our very eyes.
Leading up to the hike, I was feeling unusually anxious. Just bending over to tie my shoes would leave me feeling winded and gasping for air. Would I actually be able to complete the 4000 foot ascent to reach the top of Mount Chrysalite?
The hike was literally breathtaking...meaning I could not catch my breath the entire way up. Getting air in my lungs was not just painful and difficult, it was a little scary. Several hikers in our group had to stop and get hooked up to oxygen. Would that be me?
When we arrived to the summit we were greeted by stunning postcard views of snow capped mountain tops with lush green valleys below. As we stared out beyond ourselves, we could see bald spots where avalanches had wiped out entire tree lines below.
Sometimes, in order to get a view of what's below, we've got to hike above the timber line.
Trees will continue to grow. As my friend Russell likes to remind me, "It takes a whole lot of slow to grow." These trees below certainly did not reach their full height overnight. Slowly, they each braved the elements reaching heavenward even at the awful risk of an eminent and devastating avalanche. Those tiny seeds once sprung into saplings which eventually burst into a maturing tree line. Though winter might have made its icy threats, the timberline still leans into all of its full potential. Could I have the bravery of just one tree that opens itself up so vulnerably to what growth might require?
Snow will eventually slide. We are living in a moment in global history that has millions of people gripped with panic and fear. Pandemic is threatening to avalanche stock markets, accelerating unemployment, and leaving many buried and trapped under the weight of what could become a long winter. Some analysts, like Andy Crouch, are using imagery to reference this moment as either a blizzard that clears up in a few weeks or more like a long winter that lingers for months. Even still, there are some others who are preparing for this pandemic to have the potential of becoming a mini ice age...lasting for years.
Everything must change below. We can not control the snow or the stock market. We can, however, sink our roots down deep and lean into the side of the mountain where we have been planted to become a listener. When snow releases its icy grip on the cap to which it is clinging, it indiscriminately moves in solidarity toward an unsuspecting timberline below. Can we courageously and creatively stretch out our hands and hearts while living under such a threat as this?
Getting above the timberline invites us to take a look below. A friend of mine refers to times of reflection like this as, "spending some time living below the neck"...meaning not living just in his head amid his swirling or anxious thoughts but examining his heart, even his soul. To live below the neck is to explore our inner lives and to examine the inner and outer elements that seek to threaten our soul's flourishing. To get above the timberline is to face our own breathlessness, to hike into the interior, and listen for God's voice there.
Before Jesus entered into the fray of his own ministry, he, too, hiked up into the wilderness alone and he stood on a mountaintop. Jesus went up to get a look in. He heard two voices. One voice shouted, "Prove your worth!" The other voice whispered, "You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." These words are for you and for me. As the world shouts to tell us, "all is lost," may we hear Jesus whisper, In me, you are found."
May we, when we live under any great threat, find true rest in Paul's invitation to get up above, to take a look below, and rest in Jesus, "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28)."