I love National Parks. I grew up going to school with park rangers’ kids not half an hour from the entrance to Mt. Rainier NP, and it was certainly monthly entertainment for my family to go hiking up the Nisqually valley. This last trip of mine was a four-NP run – Yosemite (an old friend), Great Basin, Capitol Reef, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, those last three all new stamps in my National Parks Passport. I didn’t see much of Great Basin, and you can see some pictures from Capitol Reef and Tuolomne Meadows at Yosemite on Facebook. But I was particularly struck – sharply so, by Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP.
After stopping in the Visitor’s Center and chatting with the attendant (and getting my Passport stamp!) I started up the Rim Trail, intending to hit the end of the road and walk out to the scenic northwest end of the canyon rim. I didn’t make it past the first overlook, which was called Pulpit Rock.
As I stood over the sweeping canyon, I couldn’t help imagining what it would mean to preach from this pulpit. I was reminded of St. Francis, sharing the good news to the birds of the air. Sometime, now I want to go back, to stand at that overlook and proclaim the Gospel – I’m not sure what stopped me, since the place was clearly built for it. Or, if I was feeling really crazy, to climb the pulpit rock you see on the left and preach from there.
As I walked away, I thought, great. Nice, theological stop. Now to the end of the canyon!
The next overlook was Cross Fissures. I pulled over.
I will confess that I could not see the eponymous “crosses” in the fissures. Or only just. Clearly, though, unless I’m mis-reading the meaning of the formation’s name, someone on the exploring crew, some grizzled trapper or miner, saw the Cross of Christ in the fractures of the stones.
Okay, I thought. End of canyon! No more lollygagging!
The next overlook was Devil’s Overlook.
I pulled over.
Here my imagination overtook me. I could just imagine the Prince of Darkness, surveying his blood-streaked domain. If I painted a hideous cavern ceiling over my head in my mind, I could purely see the diabolical principality, and sketch screaming souls in torment at the base of the shattered chasm.
As I finally got in my car for the last time till canyon’s end (I gave Rock Point and Sunset View a pass), I thought about a phrase from my seminary days – “religious imaginary,” or, more to the point, “religious imagination.” I imagined, again, my trapper or miner or explorer, and how he saw in the shapes and fissures of the rock walls devils and preachers and the Cross of our Lord. I thought of a time lately when I saw faces in hillsides and animals in clouds, and how our religious imagination shapes our interpretations. Can we look into the stars and dare to see God’s story scrawled across the sky? Can we crack open a tomato and dare to see prayer beads? Can we look into the face of a homeless man begging on a street corner and dare to see the face of Christ?
I challenge you this month – give your religious imagination free rein. See where God is touching and shaping your life and the lives around you, as an early Colorado pioneer saw the hand of God in the carving of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.