On the weekend of my 45th birthday, I woke at 2 AM and drove from Livermore to Yosemite. The summer sight-seers were still in their beds when I parked at the Swinging Bridge. As I neared the far bank of the Merced River, I spied a circle of sunlight among the redwoods. A feeling of joy came to me, like unto an encounter with a long-lost friend. I stepped into the circle and raised my arms to the sky, and felt the whole valley singing with happiness.
I don’t know if I can ever convey what it is like to enter fully into Christ. In the official biography of Pope John Paul II, there’s a picture of him sitting on the stage in Manila, alone amidst a throng of tens of thousands. His forehead is pressed into his palm. When I saw the picture, I felt the weight of their sorrows pressing against him in that moment.
To be in Christ is to feel all the anguish of a world that suffers from our inattention. It is to shoulder the burdens shirked by those that have the power to make a difference. As Jesus says [NIV Matt. 11:28-30]:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
This is the paradox: those that seek power seek this same freedom – freedom from fear, freedom from weariness, freedom for sorrow. And yet they seek it in material things, when only Christ can grant them that freedom, and even then only when they accept the burdens that love lays upon them. So they are forced to choose between their desire for freedom and the love of Christ, and most choose freedom.
Fundamentally, it was this contradiction that brought Jesus to the cross.
When I thought on this last night, lying awake in the dark after Mystery had once again tried to corrupt me, I remembered that moment in Yosemite, and I thought of Gethsemane, were Jesus testified [NIV Mark 14:34]:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Where did that sorrow come from? Well, from the Garden itself, acknowledging the man that brought words of peace and healing into its midst, celebrating the hope that maybe finally mankind would stop warring against Nature, and grieving the knowledge that the impending response was his destruction.
God, how I miss the gardens of the world – the trees and scrub, the birds, foxes and deer. I have walked the hills here in Southern California as they dry up and burn, and my heart can hardly bear it any longer. Please, God, send me someplace where the garden and I can delight again in one another.