Thursday, August 02, 2012

Faith Works 8-4-12

Faith Works 8-4-12

Jeff Gill


What doesn't change




Zion National Park in Utah is a glorious canyon and surrounding geological landscape that has long been a special place for our family.


The Lovely Wife was a seasonal ranger there in the early 90's, and I got a chance to visit her while she worked, and we returned once for our tenth anniversary; ever since The Lad was born we've been planning when he'd be old enough for us to return. It's a place of great beauty even if you never leave the parking lots and shuttle buses, but the true glory of the canyon is only revealed when you walk the cliffs and gaze down the precipices, out across the void.


So this summer was the time, and we made it back. I've always thought that Jesus' example and explicit teaching was clear in telling us that time away, retreat time if not "vacation" in the modern sense, is part of spiritual health and growth. Likewise, I figured on seeing and feeling some experiences that would help in illustrating sermons down the road, because preachers always do.


This trip, though, and the Zion time in particular, had some strong messages that I really knew I'd have to share with you all, and they connect to everyday faith, even more than to a hundred year old historic national park in the Southwest, but that's exactly where I learned this:


First, you think of a place like Zion Canyon, like the somewhat better known canyon to the south which some might call "Grand," as being timeless & unchanging. The thousands of feet sheer plunging drops from a caprock above to the Virgin River below, the reds and russets of the sandstone mixed with tans and greys and even an off-white glow on some cliff-faces, and it all seems to make the clock stop, or at least slow down to the steady crawl of shadows against the sun's path.


In fact, while we were there, a huge chunk of the West Temple tore off and thundered a rock fall into Oak Creek Canyon in the heart of the park. A bright white gash in the iron oxide red wall changed the look of something that from early black & white photos to current posters appears identical . . . but no more.


And then you realize: duh. That's how canyons are formed. So even the ancient rock is not untouched by time, and is surely not permanent. Add in the fact that the staff has wholly changed over, the visitors center has moved, and the very gateway is turned in its path (plus they moved Oscar's Café near the entrance in Springdale), and you realize that nothing in this life is permanent in a whole new way.


Even so, the river flows, the clouds pass, the condors circle lazily overhead. What's stayed the same the most are the things that are . . . the least permanent. At least in outward ways.


Then you talk to people: many of them German & Scandinavian, because those folks must be raised on a steady diet of Karl May & Zane Grey, given their numbers in all the southwestern national parks. I practiced schoolboy Deutsch with quite a few, and took a family picture for a Danish family, to whom I could only exchange a few awkward sentences (his nervous English, my gestures trying to explicate my non-Danish directions). But when I mentioned to this Copenhagen citizen the name "Grundtvig," he beamed like I'd complimented his kids.


British tourists with bored daughters, women from France in threes and fours wanting a group picture taken, and on Sunday a campground worship service with ladies from New Jersey, a couple from Texas, and we three from Ohio.


What was eternal in that gathering? Something of God in each of us, and in the living Word we shared. The rocks erode, the park videos change, and the seasons pass; our faith tells us that each of these souls we encountered have an everlasting destiny.


Did I have to go to Utah to learn that? No, but it sure helped.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; he's leading a walk next Saturday to see the ancient remnants of Newark's earthworks. You can ask him about it at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.