Blog post by Ashley Bowie - natural habitat; cozy chairs near sources of coffee.
There might be better places for an epiphany than standing on the precipice of a known avalanche sight, but I didn’t plan ahead. I have a history of this. Once I was staring down at a deep blue gym mat attempting the splits at an age that is unamusing to talk about when I had a similar “wrong moment for this” epiphany. I’m always exhausted, worn thin and not entirely ready to think when those moments find me.
This time I had agreed to a sunset hike. I had not gotten much sleep the night before, put in an early, full shift at work and then set out for the wilderness with a handful of fun and interesting people. By the time we reached the trailhead it was early evening, drizzling and cloudy all around. You should know that the whole point of a sunset hike is to get somewhere with an amazing view of the sun. This was a huge gamble; there was no way to know for certain if the clouds would clear in time to see any hint of a sunset. But we pressed on.
The mountain was stunning. A few sturdy summer wildflowers were left over and the first kiss of fall had painted a few of the leaves for us. At a certain point talking becomes unreasonable, and you are left to your thoughts. The rain kicked up from drizzle to pour and a brisk wind whipped around the exposed part of the mountain trail we were following. But we pressed on.
At a certain point in the trail you can look below you and see the tarns, small glacial lakes set in the nearby valleys. It is a delight to behold. We didn’t stop for long though, because we were all soaked through and if you stop, you turn to ice. So we pressed on.
The trail was now muddy, covered in loose stone and steep, avalanche steep. But we pressed on.
At the view point for the tarns there is a deep temptation to stop. Stop right here, get warm, get fed, and get home. You look in front of you and can feel the struggle it will take to actually arrive at your destination. You might think to yourself; “This is more than most people would do, I could see the sunset from here, it can’t possibly be any better at the top.” I considered it for half a moment, then there it was. Off to the side of the trail, a small stack of rocks that someone had set up, one balanced on top of another.
Ebenezer; the Lord has brought us this far.
The word filled my mind as I took another step. I was standing then, on a thin slice of trail where the ground falls away just inches from my left shoe. I could see the landslides at the bottom. Not quite as steep to my right but enough to light a nerve on fire at my toe and send fear all the way through me. I pressed on.
I need to tell you about the “OK plateau.” The OK plateau is something I learned about a few years ago, just before I was faced with that blue gym mat and a shouting kung fu teacher insisting I become more flexible. The OK plateau is where you are comfortable, maybe you worked hard to get where you are, maybe you’re happy and content, maybe you don’t want a full split in your cache of talents, and maybe you can just watch the sunset from here.
But maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe it’s fear holding you back, maybe you have sinned or have been sinned against and you can’t figure out how to make yourself take the next step. The OK plateau is fine because you aren’t exposed, your sin is comfortable, your fear is familiar, and your anger makes you feel like you are actually accomplishing something.
That is where the Israelites were. They had sinned, they had stayed on the OK plateau and set up camp. They had wandered away from God and were being sinned against. They were pressed on all sides by Philistines and by fear. Samuel made a sacrifice for the people of Israel, then set up a stone and called it Ebenezer, “Thus far the Lord has helped us,” He said.
In spite of the sin of Israel, the Lord helped. Though they had become comfortable in their ways, the Lord helped. Though they were being pursued in war, the Lord helped. Though they were overcome by fear, the Lord helped.
I pressed on. I took one icy step after the other and summited the mountain. The clouds came with us, we couldn’t see. We got out dry clothes, we got warm, we ate, we smiled at one another and were grateful we had made it. Then in the space of a few moments, the clouds cleared. The sun hit our faces and lit the hills at every angle. We all laughed. What a sight! Wisps of cloud burning orange in the sunlight, green hills, Mount Baker not so far off.
Then I turned and got a clear look at what I would have missed if I stayed down on the OK plateau. I have never seen a circular rainbow, but I saw one there. The sun hit the mist at just the right angle on the mountain to set the colors in a spin. Because the sun was behind us I could see my own shadow pressed into the center of the rainbow. I giggled, like a child. Like a child the Lord had brought through fear, had lead through sin and struggle and guided to the top of the mountain even though I would have been satisfied to stop.
If you have stopped, remember that the Lord has helped you this far, and press on. If you are hemmed in by fear, remember that the Lord has helped you this far, and press on. If you are weary and exhausted, remember that the Lord has helped you this far, and press on. If you are satisfied and cannot imagine anything better than this, remember that the Lord has helped you this far, and press on.