Stairway to Heaven

…we are fallible, and so the real worst, the antithesis of peace, is to refuse to recognize failure and humbly begin again. –Sister Wendy Becklett, Meditations on Peace.


I am hiking through green forests of oak and elm and sycamore, switching back, and back again, ever upward as I work my way to the mountaintop. I can see the destination – the ridge line – through the trees. It appears to be close, just a few hundred feet uphill. Good. I think to my exhausted self. I am close to the top. But after I turn another switchback, and another, and yet another, the ridge line appears to be just as far away as it was before – or just as close. I wonder whether I will ever reach the top, whether the ridge line I see might be a mirage. The horizon in the desert. The rainbow’s end. Ever-disappearing – visible and completely inaccessible. Inaccessible, that is, until the very moment that I actually summit.


Sometimes life feels like a series of switchbacks. I find myself on the same trail as yesterday, as last year, as the year before – moving towards a destination, perhaps a heavenly home or a spiritual peak, something my soul envisions but my self experiences as inaccessible.


On most days, I try to pray, and by prayer I mean something different from whispering words to an invisible god. Prayer takes many forms, including whispered words, but I find that I am at my best when prayer becomes immersion, or perhaps submersion. I experience myself either folding into the Divine or being folded into by the Divine. It is while in this type of prayer that I see the ridge line, the destination, the ultimate goal of it all. It is in this type of prayer that any words I utter are a byproduct, and not prayer itself. I speak words only because the soul must find its expression. Passion must find its expression. Experience of living must find its expression. And not the other way around. This prayer may end end but seldom starts with words.


These days, the ridge line appears closer than it used to. I am not as young as I once was. I continue journeying ever-upward. The new year forms another switchback, one in a long-series of switchbacks. Just when I think I am almost there, I realize that I am nowhere near. The sky filtered through oaks and elms and sycamores is an optical illusion. Sometimes I think I am hiking up the side of a mountain when Ii am actually hiking down.


Why is that? Why must one so often descend in order to ascend? I look back at the past year, and indeed my life, and rather than observe it as a series of successes building upon successes, of forward movement or hiking ever-upward, I realize now that each ascent seems to have been preceded by descent. Or is it the reverse? Each ascent seems to have been followed by descent.


I am not overly fond of New Year’s resolutions. My father’s words come to mind. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. If a resolution is worth making, it is worth making today.  Why wait until New Year’s? Or Lent, for that matter. Begin again again. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to reach the next switchback, not tomorrow.


But New Year’s Day – like Lent – reminds us  to begin again. To do whatever it is we’ve known all along we ought to do. Regenerate? Restore? Forgive? Engage? Pray in a more meaningful way?


Look up – the ridge line is so close!

Past Posts