Apparently I'm on a Donald Miller kick lately...now I'm reading Through Painted Deserts (originally titled Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance), an older book about his cross-country road-trip from Texas to Oregon with his friend Paul in an old Volkswagen van. Each page absolutely teems with description of this beautiful land in which we live, a land I so desire to cross one day in my own van or RV, like the Happy Janssens. I guess I become a little more hippie everyday.
It's timely that I'm reading this now, as Donald and Paul are at the Grand Canyon, about to make a descent all the way to its cavernous bottom on Easter Sunday. As our own Easter approaches with all the symbols of spring and new life and potential it brings, I feel the anticipation of being right there with them, wishing I could see the myriad of stars they are going to see camping at the bottom of that magnificent place, and remembering the first wondrous time I saw the Grand Canyon myself in 2001 and how it made me fall in love with the west.
Paul is an interesting companion for Donald, who grew up in the big, blaring, concrete city of Houston, where I, too, lived for three scorching summers. I am right alongside Donald as he describes the sheer vastness of a city where you can no longer see the stars, and everything is the color tan because it's too hot to use blacktop.
Donald's friend Paul, on the other hand, grew up in Oregon amidst rivers and mirrored lakes and dense forests of pine. He seems to have a supernatural disconnnect from the commercialized world, and a special connection with nature. Donald says about Paul,
"And maybe this is why he seems so different to me, because he has become a human who no longer believes the commercials are true, which, perhaps is what a human was designed to be." (p. 76)
As the two vagabond friends are passing through the town of Flagstaff, Arizona on their way to the Grand Canyon, there's this incredible narrative...
"We stood out in the desert this morning, and the chemicals in my brain poured soothingly through the gray matter, as if to massage with fingers the most tender part of my mind, as if to say, this is what a human is supposed to feel. This is what we were made for, to watch the beauty of light fill up the earth's canvas, to make dirt come alive; like fairy dust, making trees and cacti and humans from the magic of its propulsion. It makes me wonder, now, how easily the brain can be tricked out of what it was supposed to feel, how easily the brain can be tricked by somebody who has a used car to sell, a new perfume, whatever. You will feel what you were made to feel if you buy this thing I am selling. But could the thing you and I were supposed to feel, the thing you and I were supposed to be, cost nothing?" (p. 77)
When I read this, my heart said, Yes! This is what I have wanted my writings on this blog to be about, and this is what I have wanted my life to be about. This is why I love being in nature because it forces me to come back to this focus; it shows me how much of my everyday life is propelling me further into the current of the status quo rather than pushing against it.
"And maybe when a person doesn't buy the lies anymore, when a human stops long enough to realize the stuff people say to get us to part with our money often isn't true, we can finally see the sunrise, smell the wetness in a Gulf breeze, stand in awe at a downpour no less magnificent than a twenty-thousand-foot waterfall, ten square miles wide, wonder at the physics of a duck paddling itself across the surface of a pond, enjoy the reflection of the sun on the face of the moon, and know, This is what I was made to do. This is who I was made to be, that life is being given to me as a gift, that light is a metaphor, and God is doing these things to dazzle us." (p. 77)
And then my mind jumps to a question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
When I'm in nature, I see how that's so much easier to do. When I am without distraction, a timeline or schedule or too much "stuff" weighing me down, I can see God's purpose in surrounding us with so much beauty - simply to enjoy it.
I have definitely felt it...
- sitting on a rock in a stream in New Mexico
- dangling my legs over the edge of the Grand Canyon
- inhaling the mountain air from a train window in Colorado
- burying sandy toes into the California coastline
- digging my fingers in the dirt of my own back yard
We can still enjoy God in cities or in the middle of suburbia. But I don't know - for me, there still has to be some natural beauty. It's why people create container gardens on urban patios and why they flock to Central Park's Sheep Meadow on a warm spring day in New York City. The natural world shows us something we cannot see otherwise.
"I pull a bit of pine needle off a tree and roll it in my palms and smell the mint-like scent of creation as I let the green shards spill from my palms to the path along the rim. And I think to myself...
(Through Painted Deserts, p. 91)