An Earthly Altar

It might be the sun radiating through the green veins of new leaves, or the cool breezes twisting and turning over the land, leftover from winter, or the joy in the eyes of the new seminary graduates around me, or just a desire to escape to a rugged landscape altogether different from the gray cement I see every day. But I yearn to stand at the top of a mountain and inhale the sprawling valleys stretched out all around me.

I remember one afternoon late in June a few years back; I followed a trail that wound its way to the top of a bald mountain. A tough climb, my friends and I encouraged one another and rested together at the turns in switchbacks. When we finally arrived at the summit, I rested on a craggy rock, hours of climbing, sweating, and aching behind me—pilgrimage complete. I inhaled the fresh, cool air and wrapped my thin shirt more tightly around me. My friends found resting places of their own, settling into the gravelly ground or standing on perches overlooking the valley. We drank water, ate our packed lunches, and snapped pictures that we would later discover only captured a fraction of the beauty and wonder before us in the moment. We did all of this quietly, reverently, inside ourselves but together.

We rested, closer to the sky and farther away from the ground than most of us had ever been outside of an airplane. We breathed in this new perspective of the land on which we lived and explored daily, this creation so vast and various.

Next to me stood a small cairn, constructed of rocks and stones of various sizes and shapes, an altar built over the years by pilgrims like us, who climbed to the top from a variety of places and pasts. It stands, still, as a testament to the beauty of the mountain, the valleys, and the many people who have stood to wonder at them.


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