Every now and again I come across book recommendations from other individuals, websites, or social media. I get these recommendations, and then I type them on a list on my phone that I have creatively and uniquely entitled, ‘books’. I was running through this list one day recently and came across this book title that, honestly, I totally forgot what it was about. I don’t even remember writing down the title. Nonetheless, I reserved it from the library, and when it arrived I knew that I would like it just by the cover. I know, I know, the old adage of ‘don’t judge a book by a cover’. But THIS book was old, written in 1978. The pages were thick, and smelled like an old book! The cover had a picture of a monastery amongst snow-covered mountains, and was entitled, ‘The Snow Leopard,’ written by a man named Peter Matthiessen.
‘The Snow Leopard’ is a non-fiction book about a journey of several different types. The main journey follows the author, Peter, and his friend, George, through the mountains of Nepal on a journey to record and observe the behaviors of a unique species of mountain sheep, and with luck, the elusive snow leopard of the Himalayas. This primary journey is more than enough to excite the average reader. However, what I love most about this book are the different levels that the author, Matthiessen, engages within this journey that would otherwise physically expend the limits of most humans. As Peter and George, accompanied by a support team of local sherpas and guides, journey several months through the remote reaches of the earth with what they can carry on their backs, the author writes of the peace found in the simplistic tasks of the day. Eat. Sleep. Hike. Peter no longer seems to carry with him the burdens of his life back in New York City with the stressors of what many of us experience each day in our lives here in the US.
Beyond this primary experience of the journey, Matthiessen will delve deeper into this journey as he emotionally processes the untimely death of his wife to cancer just a few months previous to the trip, the relationship with his son, and even his spiritual journey, using the teachings of Buddhism to help put language to his experiences.
Yes, Peter will experience the wonders of a mountain adventure in chronicling this scientific expedition. But he will also experience the wonders of the spirit within the religion and culture of the local peoples, his own introspection, and the openness to a life much larger than he previously experienced. He writes,
“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are.
Peter would come back a changed being from his mountaintop experience, and shares with the reader perhaps a small portion of the peace that he experienced in his journeys.
We all experience journeys of one sort or another in our lives. We may not hike through the Himalayas in search of rare animal species, but we do have journeys of our own, both physical and spiritual.
Many of us journey through life in all sorts of manners and directions. Some of us have found clear, straight, paths ahead. Some of us have taken ‘the scenic route’. Some of us have walked with others through various portions of our journeys, and some of us have walked alone at times. We have felt well prepared at times, and we have felt like we are fighting for survival at others.
Our spiritual journeys in particular may seem a bit circuitous at times. Yes, many of us have been brought up within a faithful church by loving parents and family. Some of us have perhaps sat in the same church pews for years and perhaps generations. Still, there are some of us who may have gone astray along life’s way of the spiritual journey. We have many stories to share, many experiences to learn from, and many hopes and dreams.
Many of these similar questions were raised by the earliest Christians as they continued on their journeys, with many uncertain futures. In many ways, the journeys of the past are not much unlike our journeys of the present. In some ways, the human journey is a shared experience. What does it look like to live into the days ahead? The Apostle Paul responds to such questions in his letter to the Christians of Rome.
Paul is in the middle of a much larger letter sharing with the Christians of Rome a basic theology of what will shape the larger Church. In chapter 6 he continues with his views on sin, and the role of Christ in breaking our bonds to sin in the world. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we now understand our own lives in relationship to new life in Christ. Verse 11 reads, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s question for all of us is still appropriate for today; ‘what then?’ What does living by grace look like in today’s world?
The Good News: God’s gift of grace allows us to live as free, holy, beings into the future.
Living under God’s grace means that we understand our lives with a much larger perspective than what we see, taste, feel, hear, and smell here on earth. We understand that life does not end with death, but, as Peter Matthiessen on his journey through the mountains of Nepal reflects on the Catholic funeral liturgy, ‘Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.’ We live with a kingdom perspective.
We may not know what lies ahead in the future. Matthiessen did not know what each day would bring during their expedition through the mountains. But if there is one thing we can all agree on, it is this: God provides us with a history of a loving relationship between us and our Creator. And with this history as God’s people, we are called not so much to do, but to simply be.
‘The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are.’
Today we live into the future, assured not necessarily of what we will do, but of whose we are: we are children of a forever loving God.
Friends, today we celebrate new life in Christ Jesus. We celebrate the fact that we are no longer bound to this earthly world of sin, but we are made new as citizens of God’s Kingdom. We live by grace, and are free.
Yes, our life journeys, our spiritual journeys, continue on. Yes, we may not know exactly where the path will twist and turn ahead. But rest assured, we do not journey alone. By God’s grace, we walk as a community in Christ. We are God’s children.