Thursday, September 2, 2010

On That Beautiful Morning Sun

I'm walking again on the mountain, after a hiatus for the past month. From the path, I can see the entire city laid out beneath me in meticulous squares, lives stretching to the lakeshore, one straight road at a time. The Monopoly cars are busy down there. But, up on the trail, the mornings are mine. The sun hasn't quite made up it up and over. The air is still and, for the first time in months, there's a chill against my upper arms as I start walking.

The path is also used by the local gas company as a maintenance road in case the huge pipe underneath my feet should rupture and mimic the long-awaited earthquake along the Wasatch Fault. So there's a median and a two tracks. Tickseed fills the median and lines the edges of the tracks. No matter which side I choose, I feel like I'm walking between my own personal corps of yellow-faced marines. Every morning, I feel like nature's throwing me a wedding. I can smell the damp underneath the summer grass, where the dew hasn't evaporated. Sometimes, I disturb a shadow of deer (although most of them are in my garden, eating at the salad bar).

It's quiet up there on the trail. Occasionally, a biker will pedal past. This morning I saw a fellow walker on my periphery as I started out. All the way from Y Mountain to Rock Canyon and back, only one other walker on this mountain side. Toward the end of the outward leg, I looked down from the trail into my in-law's yard where my father-in-law was standing, like Adam between his peach trees, surveying the late summer garden. I would have shouted but I don't think his hearing aids work past thirty feet.

Some mornings, Dave Matthew sings to me, "It's good for the soul when there's not a soul in sight." I think I know what he means. I find my place when it's just me on the mountain. Walking alone, just me and the creeping sun, the smell of summer rotting beneath the grass, and my iPod, invariably I have the moment. It's the same moment and happens after I've been walking for a while and I pass from the shadow of the mountain into the sunlight. When I feel the sun on my skin, and the chill gives way to warmth, I have to stop.

I turn my face to the sun. My eyes are closed. My arms stretch up to touch the sky. My fingers are spread wide. If I open my arms out just wide enough, I can feel my chest muscles pulling into my shoulders. I breathe deeply through my nose. I feel the cool air flow through my nostrils and down into my chest cavity. I feel as if I am swelling from within, like the center of me is expanding. If I weren't so chicken, I would stay there for longer than the few moments I allow myself. But mostly I am a nervous supplicant, afraid that my devotion will be seen by Chuck and his golden retriever. So, I repeat the embrace every few steps. (From afar, I must look like I'm conducting a band in some southern high stepping competition).

I've seen that pose before. Hiking into Delicate Arch one summer day a few years ago, my sister Margo suddenly stopped on a red rock slope. She turned to the sun, set her feet shoulder-width apart and raised her hands to the sun. "Sun worshiper," she proclaimed. I'm not sure if she was naming a yoga pose, or her personal religion. But she was beautiful. So I took her photo.

I hadn't yet felt the urge Margo felt to stand so, to align herself with the sun, and to worship at its warmth. But this late summer, I've recognized in myself the same physical/spiritual need to come to that stillness, arms stretched high, chin tilted and hands reaching heavenward. I feel on the cusp, "born before the wind; younger than the sun." I'm sailing into Van Morrison's "mystic."


The ancients built altars in their holy places. They made sacrifices and brought offerings to these altars of earth and uncut stone. Noah, upon leaving what must have been a stinking, musty place of shadows, and stepping onto a dry earth with all his beasts and creeping things alive, built an altar and "offered burnt offerings." Following a prompting, Abraham gathered up his family, and left his homeland. At the place where God spoke to him, Abraham built an altar. Then he travelled on to Egypt. After waiting out the famine in Egypt, he made camp again at the holy place of that altar and "called upon the name of the Lord."

I don't know for sure what physical posture Noah and Abraham assumed when they came before their holy altars; or Elijah, Saul and any other number of Old Testament worshipers for that matter. But I'm sensing that, even with millennia between us, their bodies before their earthen altars and mine upon my mountain path would not look so different. Abraham tells the King of Sodom, "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth." I know that feeling, that physical urge to stand still before the almighty, to lift up mine hands unto.

In our modern temples, we come to prayer at an altar. I've never been completely comfortable in those movements of the ceremony. I'm a somewhat diffident pray-er there; the gestures and motions feel awkward and cramped, and so public. But lately, on my mountain slope, I think I have felt to pray as the ancients and as our modern ceremony intends but can only vaguely suggest: body and face aligned to the sun, arms spread wide to embrace the warmth, my skin turning golden in the morning light, every muscle and bone and sinew stretching toward.

Title: Van Morrison, "Brand New Day."


  1. Thank you! Thank you for saying what you say and for saying it the in way that you say it. And thank you for reminding me of where my soul feels most contented and alive - feeling the sun, smelling the dust, talking with 4-legged beings. Just wish I could do it with my sisters more often.

  2. This year, acting out scripture stories with my primary kids for sharing time, I realized exactly how symbolic and symbol laden the signs tht took place in the Americas telling of the Lord's birth--clear across the world--were. His birth was heralded by light. He who is the source of light--both spiritual and physical--was announced by light "as bright as noonday". His death was told by absolute, utter darkness--so thick and all encompassing that there was no light at all--no stars, no flames, no burning embers. I am fairly certain part of that was caused by the smoke and rubble from the fires, volcanes and earthquakes.

    It reminded me again of the time when I was about 14, and discovered that someone had stashed a watermelon for safe keeping in one of the little used cabinets--where it safe in the dark, for several weeks. URG. As we cleaned it up, my wise mom said "this is a great analogy for life--nothing gets better in the dark. Not the stuff in the back of the fridge, not the skeletons in the closet, not the little white lies. And until we let the bright light in to clean and purify, they remain nasty." It made me think a lot then--and even more after my microbiology teacher taught us that sunlight is one of the most powerful sterilization agents!

    I lift up mine eyes to the hills, from which cometh my strength.

    I was rereading GMML, and when I got to
    "Wish I could keep you much longer" it made me laugh! Now I have seen your beautiful house, and your charming sons and husband--yep, I would definitely feel inferior at how put together you seem! Just goes to show!

  3. Tessa, your posts just make my day--each one is such a jewel.