I know there are people in my neighborhood and church community—even some who read my blog—who will think this is wrong of me, but Kendell and I have had a lovely time this spring and summer hiking on Sunday mornings. Our church doesn’t start until 1:00 this year, and sometimes we make it back from our hike in time, and sometimes we’re late.
We’ve done familiar trails and new trails. Trails we’re just on for time and to build endurance, trails to waterfalls and overlooks and peaks. We’ve talked, we’ve argued, we’ve laughed. We haven’t figured out a dang thing yet or made any of the big decisions we really need to make, but we have spent time together in one of my favorite ways. Our relationship is stronger for it.
But I still continue feeling a little bit guilty for hiking on Sunday.
Not enough to stop, though. And the experience I had a few weeks ago on the Pine Hollow Trail explains why.
This is a trail that is new to us. It starts at a parking lot in American Fork canyon (there is also a very small, four-car-sized turn out farther up the canyon where you can also park, but I wanted to start where I knew we could park for sure), the one that is just below the snow gate. You cross the road and the trail begins, fairly steep at first and following the contour of the Alpine Loop until there is a gentle sway to the left…and the canyon road is gone and you feel like you’re in the wilderness. We wanted to get to the overlook that is on one of the peaks in the canyon, so we made these turns:
- Left at the first trail junction
- Left on Ridge Trail 157
- Left at Mud Springs 173
- Left at unmarked trail—the left shoots west through a meadow; it’s hard to miss
(This beautiful meadow is just before the first left turn)
Then we were at the Pine Hollow Overlook, which is almost exactly across the road from where we parked, just about 2000 feet above. I love overlooks, especially the kind where you can sit on the cliff and dangle your feet over, even though it makes Kendell insane when I do this. (He’s not a fan of heights.)
We enjoyed the overlook—but that wasn’t the highlight of the hike for me.
About one-fourth of a mile from the overlook, there is a large meadow. The north peaks of Timpanogos come into view. The meadow was full of wildflowers—full. And they weren’t only the yellow ones I love, but every color: purple verbena and monkshood and columbine, red Indian paintbrush and pink fireweed, yellow arrowleaf daisies. When I reached this meadow, Kendell was about four or five minutes behind me, and there was no one else on the trail. I stopped. There was some sort of hawk flying over me, right through the blue sky, and I was completely overwhelmed. Right there in that meadow I found my childhood self (who was a miniature wildflower child), and my hiking self, and my running self, and my solitude-loving self.
I stopped hiking and I started crying because right there, right there on the mountain, I felt God’s love for me. I felt a deep sense of peace, and an acknowledgement of my value and individuality, that I mattered and that this beautiful world that I love exists partly because God knew I loved mountains, beauty, crags, cliffs, trees, sun, grass, stones, flowers, and that I would need those places as a balm for my heart.
I felt so much joy radiating at me from the Universe.
And I so rarely feel that in church anymore. In church I feel filled with my failures, overcome by my doubting tendencies, even, dare I admit, a bit annoyed at those who manage blind faith. In church I feel out of place; it is a cloak I draw over myself, my Church face, my Look at Amy Being Good apparel. At church I feel God’s disappointment in me.
In that meadow I felt God’s love for me.
Will I stop going to church? Probably not. But I also will continue seeking out that joy in the mountains, even on Sundays, as Sunday morning is when we can go together these days. Even if people judge me for it. My soul needs that recognition, needs that feeling I get only after great exertion, with quivery calves and noodles for quads, with that deep ache in my lungs (deeper these days). Those places and experiences are holy for me, and they are the holiness God made for me. I wouldn’t be loving God if I didn’t love this world in this way.