"Snow in the Mountains"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
We had been away for the holidays, returning home to the desert late at night on New Year's Eve, so I hadn't noticed that when we were gone it had snowed in the mountains. When I woke up on New Year's Day I walked outside and I was overwhelmed with the breathtaking sight, so rare for our desert climate - sagebrush, sand and cacti and mountains covered in snow on a crystal clear day at the beginning of the New Year. It left me speechless.
I recall something my neighbor said to me when we first moved out here. He gestured toward the surrounding desert floor and the distant mountains and exclaimed: "Welcome to Paradise!" At the time I thought he was exaggerating a bit, but now that I have lived here for a while I think he may be right. Yesterday as I stood there in the midst of all that stunning beauty on a New Year's Day it felt like I was standing in Paradise.
In the beautiful poetry of the "creation story" found in the Hebrew Scriptures' Book of Genesis. In the beginning, "God" created everything and everyone to exist in a perfect harmony with one another, all living together in a "Garden of Paradise" - rocks and rivers, deserts and mountains, rain and snow, flowers and trees, the birds of the air, all creatures that walked the face of the earth, and of course, human beings were all woven together into "one" living and breathing body, everything and everyone all belonging to one another.
But the Genesis story goes on to say that human beings let selfishness and "ego" get the best of them. They turned inward and saw themselves as separate from and superior to the rest of the great flow of creation. Humans had lost sight of the core identity of what being a human is all about - to be in relationship with everyone and everything, to belong to it all.
So now, the goal of the spiritual journey is to find our way back to Paradise once again.
The mystic monk and author, Thomas Merton, once wrote:
God is all in all
and everything is in fact paradise
because it is filled with the presence of God
and nothing is separated from God.
Yesterday as I stood in awe in a desert where it had snowed I experienced the truth of what Merton had said. I experienced "God" as that energy, the Abiding Presence that was all in all, "God" the "One" in the many. There was no distance between me and those mountains, no distance from me and those birds flying overhead, no distance from me and all my fellow human beings who inhabit this planet - and in that moment I recognized that I was indeed living in Paradise.
But of course you don't have to live in a desert to live in Paradise because every one of us lives there whether we realize it or not.
In her novel, My Antonia, Willa Cather puts it so beautifully:
This is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great
When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
A new year has begun, a time to make our way back to Paradise once again.
May we all find true happiness.