What if you slept And what if In your sleep You dreamed And what if In your dream You went to heaven And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower And what if When you awoke You had that flower in your hand Ah, what then? ~Samuel Coleridge “What if you slept”
This mountain, this strange and beautiful Shuksan flower that appears suddenly as we round a corner on the hour drive up the Mt. Baker Highway: this mountain has one foot on earth and one foot in heaven – a thin place if there ever was one.
The only way to approach is in awed silence, as if entering the door of a grand cathedral. Those who are there speak in hushed tones if they speak at all.
Today Mt Shuksan wears autumn lightly about its shoulders as a multi-faceted cloak, barely anticipating the heavy snow coat to descend in the next two weeks.
I hold this mountain tight in my fist, wanting to turn it this way and that, breathe in its fragrance, bring it home with me and never let go.
Ah, what then?
Home is not nearly big enough for heaven to dwell. I must content myself with this visit to the thin edge, peering through the open door, and waiting until invited to come inside.
I came here to study hard things – rock mountain and salt sea – and to temper my spirit on their edges. “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend. These mountains — Mount Baker and the Sisters and Shuksan, the Canadian Coastal Range and the Olympics on the peninsula — are surely the edge of the known and comprehended world…. That they bear their own unimaginable masses and weathers aloft, holding them up in the sky for anyone to see plain, makes them, as Chesterton said of the Eucharist, only the more mysterious by their very visibility and absence of secrecy. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. ~Thomas Merton
This coming Thanksgiving week is a time of reflection about the gifts given freely to us, even when we are undeserving and ungrateful. I am struck every day by how much I routinely take for granted as something I have somehow “earned” by my existence, whether it is my ability to get up out of bed and walk to wherever I need to go, or opening up cupboards and a freezer full of food, or taking in the view outside my window of the mighty Cascade mountains and Canadian Rockies. Even my next breath is not a given yet I assume it will happen without interruption.
A lesson I’ve learned from my botanical mentors just outside my back door — nothing is earned by simply being alive. Instead, being alive allows us to proclaim our unending gratitude. Whether it is a seed rising from the ground, a bud opening its face to the sun, or the gathering harvest of grain and seed to start the process over again, we gladly sing of His greatness by showing up, growing and being alive as we are meant to be. Grateful, always grateful.
Mercy follows us through the hours of our days and nights, even as we wither to frail and someday die, still thankful for His Hand on us, ready to lift us when we are about to fail and fall. We are as fragile as the grasses with bending and broken stems, yet our voices sing praise beyond our roots.
May our gratitude reseed, grow, bloom and continue to be harvested forever.