Some years ago I was on a trip that included a visit to Grand Canyon. Impressed by its splendor and beauty, my family and I decided to take a dawn trip into the canyon along the recommended “easy route.” Equipped with the correct amount of water, appropriate shoes and hats, and sensible clothes we set off in the morning darkness. Confident and excited, we anticipated our arrival at the first rest stop, Indian Terrace, five miles down. This was really going to be something for our Christmas letter to England!
Shortly after setting off on the trail, we watched the sun rise above the sides of the canyon in gorgeous hues of red and orange. The trail was as easygoing as it had said in the National Parks Guide. In fact, it didn’t look as if this trip would take long at all. Perhaps we would manage to go even deeper into the valley than we had imagined. It wasn’t long, however, before that gentle slope came to feel like the hottest place on earth. Despite drinking water and walking steadily onward our first doubts rose to the surface – reinforced by the sight of a deer falling to a sudden death in the Canyon below. About an hour and a half into our journey those doubts had become a real unease. Pausing, we decided to turn back.
But our troubles had only just begun. It was incredibly hot. We struggled to catch every six-inch spot of shade as we dragged slowly up what had seemed a gentle slope and now felt like Mount Everest. Fear snapped at our heels. It was hard to breathe. Our legs trembled with exhaustion. It was four hours before we emerged at the rim. I can remember wondering if I could even walk as far as our room only a hundred yards away. On arrival, we lay silent and exhausted in the dim stillness feeling we had escaped by a hair’s breadth the jaws of death. It was the first time in my life that I understood the power of nature to destroy. It put me in touch with the immensity of the creation and my inability to take charge of it.
Reading of the story of God’s people wandering in the wilderness, I am reminded of this incident. Even though God has set a firm covenant with God’s people and Moses which, in effect, promises them the eternal; love and protection of the divine compassion the people just never stop complaining and finding fault. Everything seems too hard. Freedom has come at a price. Angry and frightened, they resort to a quarrel, each trying to have the other “fix” the problem and bring the universe back under control. Panicked, Moses calls upon God for help. And God provides water, food, and healing for the doubting crowd.
The fact is that no matter how well-prepared we are, life can feel more like trying to get out of the Grand Canyon than viewing the sunrise from the top. The good news is that we are embedded in something bigger than ourselves. We are truly not the cause and sustainer of the creation. Great though Moses was in leading his people from slavery to liberation, his true greatness lay in his ability to abandon himself to the mercy of God. He behaved as though God could be trusted even when his heart was overcome by fear and telling him not to trust – to have faith that all would, in the end, be well.
God likes to remind the Israelites they doubted the presence of God on their through the wilderness and into the Promised Land; on the way down the Canyon and out. God reminds us to embrace our frailty without fear, keep things in proportion, and trust we can leave the rest to God.
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves