I love the high mountains. I’ve come to love the beach.
1. Both offer the gift of a natural, unobstructed horizon—one extending vertically up into the sky, the other horizontally into the distance. Both offer the gift of an untamed immensity that can’t help but put us into perspective.
a. Now it’s certainly true that in some beach towns, if you’re even a block away from the beach you might never know you were at the beach—never know the gift a few steps over. That’s part of why I love the South Carolina low country. The wetlands stretching out on either side of the intra-coastal waterway with the ever-present sun-baked smell of salt and decay and pluff mud filtering through the marsh grass, the sinuously erect posture of egret and heron, the effortless glide of squadrons of pelicans, the deep shade of cypress draped in spanish moss, the tide so regularly pumping salt water up the rivers and through the creeks and then sucking it all back out, the surface-breaking emergence from below of alligator and porpoise—it all serves as wild declaration of an integral, comprehensive interconnection, indeed as declaration of an interdependence we regularly desecrate. It also serves as reminder that in this place—this way of being, we find ourselves at a border—on the the farthest shore of the familiar, the known—of our own natural habitat—beyond which, in the depths, waits the habitat of others, where reside mystery and wonder, promise and threat, the unknown and the ineffable.
b. In a mountain town, there’s no where you can go (outside) and not be dwarved by the looming geography—not be struck by the particular configuration of land, the singular shape of the horizon—rock above the tree line—that makes of sunrise a jagged silhouette of light, that brings evening shade just that much earlier. And you breathe in air that much more fresh and crisp. And you live and move and have your being in the shadow of that which can never be claimed as constructed (made by hands)—where the ways of our coming and going seem less superimposed on than carved out of the landscape, and you always know your place in relation to that which is so much bigger and so much older and so much more lasting.
2. There’s another appealing dimension to both the mountains and the water. They facilitate movement simultaneously on the horizontal and the vertical planes. When you’re hiking, climbing or (for me, especially) skiing, you’re so aware of moving in multiple dimensions. Swimming, particularly diving, it’s the same.
I would imagine (never having done any of these) it’s the same for piloting a plane, sky diving and hang gliding.
Most of my day-to-day movement, you see, take place on the horizontal plane. So opportunities to experience vertical movement within the horizontal norm are cherished.
Christianity locates our living theologically at the intersection of the horizontal and the vertical—spatial metaphor for the intersection of the human and the divine. So isn’t there something wonderfully appropriate about finding such deep joy in the weaving together of moving up, down and across—from early childhood’s love of slides and swings and climbing trees to the aforementioned diving and skiing?
So while always anticipating more time in the high mountains and at (and in) the water, I want, not just as fun leisure activity, but also as spiritual discipline, to cultivate an appreciation for the escalators and elevators and the stairs that even if not natural—even if made with hands—nonetheless bring to my own home and church and day-to-day living that sense of the vertical and the horizontal that I associate with my best vacations and the best resorts and the truth of the metaphor of God with us.