Updated: Feb 17, 2020
In his introduction to G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Philip Yancey writes that the world we live in might be compared to “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.” Yancey goes on to say that the scattered remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck are like “bits of Paradise extended through time.”
When I am out hiking in the mountains, I find it easier to see myself resembling that bewildered sailor searching through the wreckage of that “cosmic shipwreck.” I walk through the unfamiliar landscapes, climbing up one side of a mountain and down the other where I become stripped of my everyday identity built on education, work, and home. Out in the wild landscape of the hills and mountains, I become a free agent, liberated to experience the world through a somewhat poetic lens, seeing the remnants as evidence of a tumultuous cataclysm yearning for restoration of an original order.
Walking the ridges of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, for instance, I have come
across huge boulders, some the size of small houses, laying scattered everywhere for no obvious rhyme or reason, 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 a question of: how did this strange arrangement of rocks happen in the first place? In the end, I am left with a sense of the improbability of it all.
It is perhaps the psalmist who through poetry and song grasps 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)
Even the chaotic arrangement of boulders in this rugged mountain setting suggests a kind of fragmentary beauty that in all its brokenness may be those “bits of paradise extended through time.” I would like to think so.