Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the
recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you
comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
In his introduction to G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Philip Yancey writes that the world we live in is “a sort of cosmic shipwreck. A person’s search for meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics . . . and tries to discern their meaning.” He goes on to compare the scattered remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck to “bits of Paradise extended through time.”
When I am out hiking, I find it easier to see myself as just another restless wanderer of the earth. I walk through unfamiliar landscapes, up one side of a mountain and down the other where my identity is not defined by job, or education or home. I am stripped of these layers of identity. I am liberated to see the world through a more poetic imagination, marveling at the mystery and beauty of what I am encountering.
Walking the ridges of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, I come across huge boulders, some the size of small houses, lying scattered everywhere, with some resting precariously at the edge of deep ravines. This vast, improbable stone-strewn landscape prompts all kinds of responses from a sense of natural grandeur to how did this strange arrangement of rocks happen in the first place? In the end I am left with a sense of the strange improbability of it all. It is perhaps the Psalmist who understands the mystery of creation best: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” (Psalm 104: 24-26)
—Eric Kampmann, Signposts