Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Surprisingly Familiar Satisfaction

For years my favorite part of living out west was the hiking and backpacking. Living hours from some of the greatest backcountry in the world and less than a day from most of our country's National Parks was the highlight of our move out here and we took full advantage. When we finally decided to have our first child (a mere 9.5 years into our marriage) we actually picked up the pace. In the 3 years before Charis joined our family we did extended hikes or backpacking trips in Glacier (my personal favorite), the Canadian Rockies, Olympic, Cascades, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Lost Coast, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Yosemite (several times). (This gives me an excuse to post gratuitous backpacking photos.)

We knew that we would enjoy the parenthood life stage and were not mourning the loss of our extended newlywed phase. We just knew that one of our favorite activities would be on hold for a decade or so and we tried to get as much of it in as possible. When 'we' actually got pregnant I started to take existential steps to embrace the new season. I even wore my special, REI, $10/pair, hiking-only socks for other athletic purposes as a personal act of moving on. I was thankful for the life stage we had lingered in but ready to start something completely different. What surprised me was how existentially similar the experiences were.

There are several reasons I love to backpack. I am a big fan of the exercise vacation. I am goal oriented to the point of personality disorder. I enjoy the air, the sounds and the solitude. Amanda and I once covered 15 spectacular miles along the High Sierra trail and encountered more bears than people (final score: bears 1, humans 0). But mostly it is the experience of transcendence. The proximity to bigness. There is a familiar emotional response that comes from staring up at the shear mass of El Capitan, peering out over the jagged peaks of the Palisade range or watching the sun come down over the watery pacific horizon. It is the feeling of transcendence...the strange and terrifying comfort you feel when the confining walls of the ego are shattered and you are overwhelmed with otherness. When there is something else so grand, so lovely, so original you, for just a moment, have an accurately sober self assessment.

But, for me, this was the great surprise of parenthood. It is flush with these same moments. I had expected that in trading backpacking for parenthood I was trading up, but for a qualitatively different experience. What I didn't expect was that my favorite moments of parenthood would remind me of my favorite moments in the mountains. The beauty and wonder of our daughter affects the same experience of joy in transcendence. (This gives me an excuse to post gratuitous Charis photos.)

John Piper believes that our desire to experience the transcendent through sunsets and mountains is a clue to our fundamental nature. We are existentially wired to desire to be near that which is qualitatively greater than ourselves. He actually expands the realm of greatness to include sports. This is why we watch the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Olympics. The reason that I, as a completely heterosexual man, am so drawn to the power and beauty of Kevin Garnett is because I desire the experience of fundamental otherness. I want to celebrate greatness. I have a base code level desire that seeks satisfaction in greatness. I was designed to worship. Lewis famously calls these temporal passes with transcendence 'the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.'

I have always found backpacking satisfying because the greatness of the geologic anomalies we protect as monuments become conduits of worship. I am awed by their bigness and by analogy (or syllogism) I am more awed by their creator. The surprise of parenthood is that I find it satisfying and worshipful in precisely the same way.


Corrie Haffly said...

Please DO post as many Charis photos as you like! I certainly do... :)

steve said...

what the heck is "code base level"? I like reading your blog because it is very similar to speaking with you in person--that is, I understand about every other sentence. Keep writing, I'll get smarter!!