It was never on my to-do list or my hope-to-do list, but I did it.
A friend and I visited Grand Teton National Park over Memorial Day weekend. I’d never been there before but I have to say it has some of the most beautiful views I have ever encountered. The Grand Teton mountain range stands 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A hidden waterfall was running powerfully after a snowy winter season and scenic drives allowed us to see the Grand Tetons from different angles. If you are looking for a vacation destination, I’d recommend this one.
This year has brought a lot of firsts to my life. June 1 marked the first anniversary of my mom’s death. I walked in my first ever half-marathon. Walking 13.1 miles, for someone who is not so physically active, was a challenge but I finished in just under four hours. (My original goal was to be standing after I crossed the finish line — I was!)
So, after the half-marathon explanation it will come as no surprise to you that hiking in the mountains was a first for me. Besides preferring driving to walking, I have never been too keen on the idea of getting up close and personal with God’s beautiful creatures (especially bears).
Given the potential for running into said creatures, I found myself praying a lot before, during and after our hike. I prayed to God, to my mom and to St. Francis of Assisi to keep the animals at a distance. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask the saint who had a special connection with God’s creatures to distract them as I hiked by.
My time in Grand Teton National Park showed me that nature can actually imitate our emotions. Thunderstorms raging over wide-open spaces reflect our own anxiety and fear about what might happen in a situation like confronting someone who has hurt you. There’s peace in the still glacier lakes. The magnificent waterfall that provides water to other areas of the park shows us strength.
I was also struck by just how large the mountains of the park are. Mountains, of course, are called mountains for a reason, but the closer we got to the range, the grander the peaks became. And so it is with God, who really is bigger than any “big” problem I have. And maybe when I am ready to let God take care of me after I process the grief of losing my mom and others this year, I can realize that no matter what feelings and emotions overwhelm me and challenge everything I know, God will be there with even greater strength to hold me. After all, isn’t it faith that can move mountains?
And then there was the silence.
Hiking on the trails at Grand Teton was a lesson in accepting periods of silence, even while walking with a friend. (Note: Walking in total silence is actually not recommended in bear country, so periodically I would clap my hands as instructed by the warning sign at the trailhead.) Living in the middle of a city, I tend to gravitate toward noise. I enjoy the constant entertainment and sounds of television or radio when I’m at home or in my car. I have a hard time being quiet. Encountering silence on the hike, I prayed for the ability to accept it. I started to think about the noise in my prayer life that impedes an open relationship with God. I was grateful for the reminder on the trail of the need for calm and stillness in prayer so as to actually hear God’s side of the conversation.
After a long hike — with the fear of encountering a you-know-what on my mind — we actually saw a black bear! Luckily it was walking in an open field quite a distance away, content to ignore the throngs of tourists stopping traffic to take its picture. I snapped one, too. In that moment, I was a safe distance from the bear, but even closer to God in my answered prayers.