Text: Psalm 32:8 –New Living Translation
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
I keep hearing and reading about the latest definition of many of those who are leaving or who are not interested in the church as spiritual but not religious-have you ever really wondered what that means? How can you be spiritual without religion? It seems that for many of us it is religion that provides the pathway to spirituality and one would never become spiritual without the help and guidance of religion. But that is the way it appears to us – not to those who define themselves in that way.
Most of you know that I have been on vacation for the last couple of weeks and during that time Heidi and I have had the chance to visit a number of the National Parks here out west. It has been quite an experience – but through that experience, I believe, I have come to a better understanding for myself about what it means to be spiritual, but not religious.
Come along with me as we visit and experience some of what we saw.
One of the parks we visited was Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Arches is an absolute wonderland of sandstone formations and red dirt. There are tall cathedral like spires, giant castles growing up out of the ground. One of the areas we visited was even called Castle Valley – just to give you an idea.
Then there are the arches themselves; there are small ones-sometimes called windows. We hiked around in the windows area for quite a long time-completely in awe of the scenery and the creative expression of nature all around us. It was easy to believe that God was present all around.
Then we hiked into the area of the double arch; this massive structure towers over you and dwarfs the hikers beneath it. They say it was formed by water and wind erosion, one of the two arches used to be a pot hole, but the constant falling water into the hole eventually wore all the way through. That was a few million years ago when there was lots of water in this area-it seemed long gone to us. The adjoining arch was formed by wind erosion, and the two together now form a double arch. It is unbelievable and inspiring all at the same time.
Then we hiked up to Delicate Arch. Whew! It was quite a hike-a vertical rise of almost 1,000 feet and about 1.5 miles one way – although it seemed much longer than that! Maybe because I was carrying about 20 pounds of camera gear plus a tripod might have had something to do with how difficult the hike seemed. It was also at the end of a long day, because we wanted to be there for sunset. But we made it!
Delicate Arch is magnificent. It looks out over the other formations and the mountain range in the distance like a giant sentinel or a grand entrance to a magical arena of rocks and shapes and color. When the setting sun lit up the top of the arch with a golden beam, it was a very special connection you experienced with the earth.
If Arches National Park was the only thing you ever experienced, it would be easy to become entranced with the Red Rocks Religion. The presence of God was everywhere and the spiritual connections were abundant. Surely the Red Rocks Religion is the truth that is supreme; all other attempts at the grand expression of our Creator must be false. I have been there, and the Red Rocks Religion moved me; the experience is real.
But then we moved on and visited other National Parks-like Grand Teton National Park. Talk about mountains! Wow! These guys are huge! The Tetons stand abruptly magnificent in an otherwise semi-flat plain. They rise up out of the ground suddenly; and to such height it is hard to comprehend.
As we pondered the Tetons from a number of angles I began to become aware of why the mountain top is always thought to be the dwelling place of the Lord. Where else would God be? I mean if you had your choice of dwelling places in the entire world, wouldn’t you choose something like this?
Apparently the ancients felt the same way – in my concordance there are almost three pages of scriptural references about mount or mountain. The authors of our sacred texts knew where God was to be found; and it was in the mountains. Could anything be more spectacular than this? Could anything top the mountain experience? Certainly to be a Member of the Mountain was the ultimate truth. There is no other valid experience of God that compares to the mountain. Being a Member of the Mountain proclaims the truth of the one true God. . I have been there, and the mountain moved me. The experience is real.
But then we moved on and visited a place called Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. We rode a ferry across the lake and then hiked about a mile into the woods to a waterfall aptly named Hidden Falls. There isn’t anything like a waterfall. Hidden Falls was great, but there were other falls yet to be discovered. We stopped and saw Gibbon Falls in Yellowstone National Park, and then there was Tower Falls, and of course the magnificent and majestic Yellowstone Falls at the end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
There is a sense of God’s presence in a waterfall. One of the things that always runs through my head when I witness such splendor is that this waterfall runs 24/7 whether there is anyone to see it or not. It is always running, putting on such a show for anyone who happens to be there. It is a constant-sort of like God-always there.
As I considered all the waterfalls we had seen, it became clear that to be a Follower of Falling Water was the clear choice for me. Waterfalls are refreshing; the mist wafts up from the pounding waters and surrounds you with fresh, cool, clean and refreshing air. The power of the water accurately portrays the power of the Divine. To be a Follower of Falling Water must be the best expression of what it means to have God in your life; there isn’t anything that compares to waterfalls. Waterfalls reign supreme and to be a Follower of Falling Water is the true expression of God; all others are false. I have been to the waterfall and it moved me. The experience is real.
But then we moved on to another part of Yellowstone National Park; the area of geothermal activity. Can you imagine the heat and pressure and power rising up from the center of the earth and spewing water and steam almost 200 feet into the air? That is what happens every 90 minutes at Old Faithful-the awesome power of God displayed for all to see, on schedule, every 90 minutes.
Not only can you see the power of God displayed here, you can also hear the voice of God calling up from the depths of the earth. The geothermal vents and the spewing water form an astounding concert of holy music. God speaks here.
Then there are the mineral pools and calcium deposits at places like Mammoth Hot Springs and the creative nature of our God is again on display. But nothing can compare to the crystal blue and turquoise colors of the geothermal pools. When the breeze clears and area of steam for just a second, you get a glimpse into the center of the earth-you can almost see God.
Many of the pools are surrounded with a rust color that is a bacterium that thrives in a certain temperature range and is only found in the heated waters of the geothermal pools in Yellowstone. Then there is the Grand Prismatic geothermal pool; this pool is so large it is hard to view from the ground. When you approach the pool you have an idea of how spectacular it must be, but you lose perspective when you are in close proximity to the pool itself.
Heidi and I found a trail a little ways from the pool-we had to bend the rules a bit as we scampered up the mountain side, but when we arrived at a clearing and looked through the trees-this is what we saw. The face of God, the presence of God, the reality of God for all to witness and for all to see and for all to be humble in God’s presence. Can anything be a more exquisite expression of God’s creativity than the Grand Prismatic geothermal pool? I don’t think so. This is the ultimate truth-this is the experience of God I have been searching for. I am a Disciple of the Depths. Nothing else is true for me; if it is not in the Disciple of Depths experience, it doesn’t count; it isn’t real. Because I have seen the majesty of the Disciple of the Depths and it moved me. The experience is real.
Obviously, I am using a bit of sarcasm to make a point; and the point is this: You cannot compare the beauty of the Red Rocks with that of the mountains or the waterfalls or the geothermal pools or any other place on earth. One can never be superior over the other, because if it is, the others are diminished. It is enough to be a lover of creation without professing an allegiance to a particular form of creation.
So I am not part of the Red Rocks Religion, I am not a Follower of Falling Water, I am not a Member of the Mountain and I am not a Disciple of the Depths – but I am a huge fan of creation.
And that is what it means to be spiritual, but not religious.
Go in peace. Amen.