The Harney Analogy
Northern Walk spent the past weekend in Hill City, SD. It was a fun weekend, complete with a trip to Mount Rushmore, an interview for NBC, and a few hours exploring a park where parts of National Treasure 2 were apparently filmed. However, my favorite part of the weekend by far was the little side mission five of us decided to take on Sunday to Custer State Park, home of Harney Peak, the highest point in the US east of the Rockies. The rest of the group did not feel any particular inclination to hike up a 7242 foot mountain on their day off from walking (though I can’t imagine why), so Chris, Zach, Jelani, Kelly, and I set off after our Masses for the day.
It was a gorgeous day — clear sky, perfect temperature, slight breeze. The hike up sparked some highly intellectual discussions such as, “if this mountain was all of America and we were Lewis and Clark, would this stream be the Missouri River, or is it too small?” and “if hills were priests, would peaks be bishops, mountains be Cardinals, and Mount Everest be the Pope?” The excellent liberal arts education four of the five of us have received from Ave Maria University enabled us to think through the many aspects of these deep and thought provoking questions. We walked higher and higher, stopping twice to admire the view of the Black Hills from outlooks we passed on the way. Walking is kind of our thing, so the hike up wasn’t too grueling. It was only the very last part of the hike, consisting of the steepest stairs in all of existence, that really winded us.
The view from the top was absolutely spectacular. Being a Florida native, I had never experienced anything like it. We could see for miles and miles. Rock structures and hills and fields were laid out before our eyes; we could see a small town here and there, but the scene was almost untouched by civilization. As we ventured off the trail to explore the mountain top, we all separated to admire the view from different spots. I was in awe of God’s work of art; Bob Ross has got nothing on Him! The grandeur of it all couldn’t help but reflect its Creator. Words can’t describe the simultaneous peace and elation I felt as I stood near the edge, arms in the air, with only the sound of the wind in my ears and the quiet yet glaringly obvious presence of God all around me. As I continued to explore, I could hear Zach’s whoops of joy echoing off of the surrounding rock. When I came across him, his eyes were on fire, high on God and high on life. We were alive, and, for whatever reason, God allowed us to be there experiencing that perfect moment, a small mountain top encounter of Him through His creation.
We put off leaving as long as we could, but eventually we had to trek back down to the bottom. As I was thinking about our little adventure up Harney Peak on Monday, I recalled a quote by Pope Benedict XVI, who said that “when one has the grace to have a strong experience of God, it is as if one is having an experience similar to that of the disciples during the Transfiguration: a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise.” The apostles had to leave the mountaintop where they wanted to pitch tents. They had to return to the hustle and bustle of everyday life because that’s where they were needed. Jesus took them to the mountaintop and allowed them a moment of pure peace and joy before bidding them back to their everyday duties. Fortified by their mountaintop experience, the apostles were able to go back down the mountain to do God’s will in the world. In the very same way, we are each called to do this. God allows each of us to have “mountaintop experiences”, whether they occur on a physical mountain or a figurative one. Once these experiences have strengthened us, we have the opportunity to return to our everyday tasks, seeking the same peace and joy we found on the mountain in our sometimes monotonous everyday duties and sharing it with others as we seek it ourselves.
Whether you’re a fisherman from Galilee, a farmer from the Midwest, a businessman from a big city, a stay-at-home parent, or a kid walking across the country, each of us is needed to do God’s work in this world. So let Christ fortify you, and then go out and do His will!
photos by Chris DeCleene
Northern Walk ’15