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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Further Up, and Further In

This phrase from CS Lewis' last Narnia book, The Last Battle, enjoins the characters who have reached the true Narnia to move deeper into the experience and place, as they climb the hills. And it keeps resonating for me as we hike into the Alps.

We are in Switzerland, hiking, as a complete sabbath from our normal life in honor of our 30th anniversary and in the wisdom of God's life-patterns and Serge's policies. Of course we wouldn't have to take time off in such wondrous beauty, but thanks to some generous gifts and savings, we're grateful to be here. It's not without a cost for sure, to our teams and families, particularly as Scott's dad continues to decline. But for today we're pressing on, further up and further in. Four days of hiking so far, average 15-18 km a day, thousands of feet up and down, strenuous paths that leave us with a healthy ache. Then evenings in Inns, tonight's is 136 years old and run by the 5th generation of the same family, with stunning views from the balcony and delicious food.

As we lift up our eyes to the hills, day after day, scrambling and climbing, striding and pausing, pray with us that God would reveal grace to us, refresh with Presence our weary souls. So often God called people to the mountains for encounters with his Glory. The solid awe-inspiring strength, the unknowable heights, the dangerous beauty, the abundant waters, the lonely pristine clarity, the otherworldliness of the landscape all make the mountains a place to experience God more concretely. You can look from afar and admire, but to really get into the high zones take time and breath and purpose.

Another phrase that's been in my head as we hike is the Mighty Fortress hymn, since we're in German-speaking country and the words for fortress (burg) and mountain (berg) echo each other. If you live around the Alps, particularly in the Middle Ages, in times of cantons and small kings and attacks, a good high rock and fortress makes for a place of safety. Also if you're going to survive in this environment, you can see how the Swiss characteristics might be the ones that would emerge: careful attention to detail, rules, surety, conformity, beauty. The paths are well marked. There is no trash. The homes all have flowers. The industry seems small scale. You can look at these mountains and feel that the people who managed to live in their shadows did so by drawing some hard lines and staying inside. Which perhaps explains a lot of our reformation inheritance of theology too. Dangerous mountains, keep to the path. Explain, set the parameters, make sense.

But the peaks still loom. We hear avalanches in the clouds. Snow blows in, then sun. There are tiny sparks of color in the wildflowers, massive swathes of blue across the sky. Unknown paths that wind and climb, inviting us further up and further in.

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