I have missed this space enormously--and all of you who come to fill it. Instead of writing and posting, I have been busy these last ten days shepherding, teaching, feeding, hiking, ferrying and----- standing among bears. Among bears and mountains in a place few visit---Katmai National Park, the least visited part in the national park system. (It's the large green splotch across from Kodiak Island).
I know why the park is so empty of people----and even of rangers and services. It smokes with exoticism and ascorching history of hosting the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century (Novarupta in 1912), but it is far far from anywhere most people live.
But bears live here, more than 2,000 in the Park. They are not the Kodiak bear with its massive head and body; these are the smaller Alaska Coastal brown bear. But they are every bit as wild and intimidating.
They were here in Geographic Harbor, reachable only by floatplane and boat, to fish for salmon.
Their bulbous bodies already told their story: they had eaten a thousand salmon already, and still they did not give up, eating not for present hunger, but against the coming winter.
We didn't talk much as we stood there on the tidal flats, me and my writing friends. There was little to say.
It was a time to listen, to watch, to see with our cameras and to see with our eyes. We stood in cold pelting rain, in mostly silence, watching.
We stood in brilliant sun as it broke over us, watching.
We held our breaths for 3 hours, barely breathing, watching (and sometimes laughing . . . )
How could it be that we were in such a place at such a time? And we rehearse the sequence of mercies and graces that sent us onto trains and jets, into hipboots, on float planes, over mountains and sea to get there, and being there together . .. For some, they had come 5000 miles. For me, It is my backyard neighborhood, this Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, yet I had never been. I was as astounded at this place as the faraway others.
Most people cannot come to this place, I know. Time. Money. Distance. But little of this is needed to stand agape at the world, wherever you are. Annie Dillard wrote her pulitzer prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek from her observations of insects and pond life in a place no one would cast a second glance upon---a swamp in the suburbs of Virginia.
This summer, I watched the sparrows intently, poor common lovely bird. In the corners of our windows, fourteen ordinary spiders threaded their homes and traps, affording us daily spectacles of cunning and death. A rainbow lights up an ordinary beach. A seagull picks at a fish head . . .
Where do you live? Glory has no single address nor a single tongue but visits and speaks to us all in whatever land or city scape we now call home. But we may miss it. Isaiah was commissioned to go and speak to his people "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.'
We can go to the ends of the earth and stand listening among bears, and still not get it. We can stay home and watch the careful common spider in our corner window and still not understand. Near or far, God wants his people to see with the eyes He himself has given, to hear with the ears He has fashioned, to understand with the hearts He Himself has formed. And when we do this, we "return and are healed."
I saw this happen this week. This, then, was the most wondrous spectacle of all:
God's people hushed, stunned, returned, healed.
Made alive again.
Because they truly saw . ...
What have you seen this week that opened your eyes, ears and understanding?