June 14, 2014

On Monocacy Hill

I went for walk two Sundays ago with my family and I believe God was present that day in a way He hadn't been in a long time. We were at Monocacy Hill in Berks County, Pennsylvania and we had climbed the mount to the top. The sun was about 15 degrees above the horizon ready to set, so the view was pretty nice. At the top I ran into an older gentleman and his grandchild that appeared to be a tween. He predominately spoke with my wife in the exchange. He was a talkative man. Probably too talkative for the environment we were in. After the formalities my family and I moved towards the other side of the outlook to start back down the mount. I guess we kind of hustled to put distance between us and the two at the top due to the talkative nature of the older man.

So we made it down about a hundred yards and much to our surprise they were right behind us. Actually, they were gaining on us. We had a quick pace assuming they wouldn’t be able to follow suit but to no avail. So our conversation continued much to my dismay. I had wanted quiet time in the woods with my family. I wanted quiet time in the woods with God. I figured I just wasn’t going to get it. As I recall, his grandson had wanted to keep moving while we all stood at the pinnacle. The older gent just want to stay at the top and take in the view. He even said to the boy, “Can’t we just sit up here for a while and take in the good Lord’s creation?” Neither his plans nor mine were coming to fruition...but it seemed that someone's plan was coming together in spite of us.

At the time I didn’t really paid attention to the God comment. I just figured it was a rhetorical statement and thought nothing of it after we started back down the other side. Now that they had caught up to us I figured it would only be polite to continue the conversation. Somehow, somewhere in the secondary conversation he had begun to mention the ER or emergency room at Reading Hospital. I assumed he was a doctor and just let him talk. Then he said some things about dying and I’m thinking to myself that this dude must work in the Trauma Unit. So I asked him, “Do you work in the Trauma Unit?” He affirmed that question and also said that he worked, "...in most of the hospital." At this point I’m thinking I’m in the presence of medical greatness and talking with someone God has specially gifted. So I asked him, “Where did you get a medical degree?” His response was shock and then laughter. I looked at him with a puzzled look. He then stated bemused, “A doctor? That’s pretty funny son! I ain’t that bright…oh no…I’m not a doctor, I’m an Emergency Room Chaplain.”

So what was supposed to be a walk with God and my family turned out to be much more. Much more.
I will also admit that things have been really tough in life lately. I have needed to find God wherever I can because the encounters have been few and far between. There have been deaths, bad jobs, job losses, debts, and so on. On top of this I was trying to finish my theology degree over the last few years and this put a traumatic strain on all of my relationships including my marriage. Stresses that hadn’t existed in our lives before seemed to derail and take over lives, mostly mine. So when this Chaplain caught up with us/me again, I lagged behind my family and exchanged a few words. He asked me about myself and I told him, “I was a change of lifer.” In other words, I had gotten the definitive call to be a theologian/preacher at mid-life. His exacts reply was, “So you’re a mid-lifer? So you and your family have had it rough?" My first thought was to ask him how he knew and then he continued to talk. “I was a mid-life call also,"  he continued, “I lost my job in my late thirties and went back to school to study God in my early forties.” He definitely punctuated his statements by saying, “Nothing has been easy, not since taking the path that I have been on.”

It is at this point that the gravity of the situation hits me…I am talking to an older version of myself.

The Nameless One as I will henceforth refer to him (I never got his name) was placed on this mountain in a time period I had specifically put aside to worship God with my family through physical exertion and silent prayer. Surprisingly, that is exactly what I seemed to have encountered. God… or at least a messenger that may or may not have realized he was a messenger. I was having a God moment on a mountain top. It was the proverbial and biblical mountain top experience. As I think about it now I believe the Nameless One was saying more than even he or I knew at the time.

I distinctly remember that he kept asking me, “Are you taking the low path down to the bottom or are you going to stay on the path that you are on?” He kept asking if we were going to take the long dark path in the dark, down to the bottom of the trail. He didn’t say not to go…but strangely seemed to be dissuading us from taking the harder darker path because it was messy, covered in mud due to the recent rains and had infamous ankle twisting rocks jutting out (this is Pennsylvania mind you). It was also getting dark and the torment of the hovering mosquitoes didn’t seem so appealing either near a stagnant dead water basin. In hindsight I believe there was an inadvertent warning taking place here.

In retrospect, I suggest there was a symbolic message here from a person that literally had walked our same path with his family at some point in the past. He was now offering my family immediate advice navigating a similar treacherous course both literally/physically on that day's walk and also spiritually/symbolically about life in general.

It seems as if he was suggesting that (1) Yes, we would still have some serious exertions ahead of us before we reached the end of our trek regardless of which path we took (2) We had a mountain top experience to help continue to drive us forward. (3) Since our reward was behind us or already in our possession, it did not warrant adding more risk to our walk with known dangers ahead. Instead we should take the straightest least convoluted path to get us where we need to be…which was home. (4) Lastly, it seemed he was there to encourage us on our journey as painful and difficult as it was but issued what amounted to a stern warning of taking the wrong path or making a bad choice.

I pondered the fact that the Nameless One was subject to death on a routine basis as a Trauma Unit Chaplain. Yet both he and his grandson were childishly optimistic about the prospect of finishing the trail and life in general. He kept talking about family not currently present. He talked about happiness and joy. We parted ways at the next cross path and we said goodbye. I said, “It looks as if this is where we part ways.” He merely said, “Perhaps.”

Yet, the story is not quite over.

We eventually finished the hike and it was almost dark. When we reached the parking lot, guess who was there waiting? I never did see him face-to-face at the end, I only heard his voice. His grandson who was mischievously smiling ear to ear blocked my view of him. He spoke and what he said resonated in my mind and still does. I just recalled his statement now while typing this conclusion.

The voice of the Nameless One was concise and confident, “We thought you might take the hard path this late in the day. So we waited here at the end to assure that you and your family got back together and unharmed.” Considering this is an average run-of-the-mill hike, the words seemed too grandiose for the occasion unless…


The words might not have been too grandiose if there was more than met the eye going on here. I now suspect that might have been the case. I believe that when God ends his spiritual silences with me, he does so in powerful and punctuated ways so that I will not miss their significance. I might initially glance over them but the event God uses to get my attention usually ends up being so profound that it is like a gunshot. It is like searching over a trail that has a piece of gold lying on the ground in sunlight. You might initially miss it but it has a way of jumping out at you like shimmering heavenly light if the sun hits it just right. It appears the Light hit me just right two weekends ago. 

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