The wind was whipping so loud in my ears that I couldn't hear anyone around me, even when they shouted. Rain spilt over the top of my head and collected on my eyebrows, my lips, my chin. The fog was so thick I could barely see my own feet; it was so dense I could almost forget there was a 2,000 foot drop on either side of this rock.
I was hiking the Knife's Edge - the mile-long ridge of angry boulders leading to the summit of Mt. Katahdin. I was with a large group of other women, all with varying degrees of hiking experience. As we slipped and stumbled and strained to see, my mind clung vaguely to the ranger's warnings, like a song stuck in my head.
They're calling for rain, he had said. Turn around if it starts to look bad. People have died up there.
As we climbed the clouds had collected around us; we were so high that we were literally in them. We should have turned around when we reached the first peak, but it wasn't enough. We wanted to summit. By the time the rain started, first in drops and then in sheets, we were too far along the edge to turn around.
And now here we were - tiny humans dotting a very large mountain, completely exposed in the middle of a storm. The wind and the rain and the fog were so loud and disorienting that they created a strange sense of solitude. I felt my humanity keenly; my body was vulnerable to the elements, and I felt cold and desperate and powerless. I felt as though I would never get off that mountain, never feel the comfort of my own bed or hot tea or feet soaking in hot water.
I tell this story because I've been spending a lot of time on the Knife's Edge lately. Not in the physical sense - believe me, once was enough. But that Knife's Edge feeling - that one of sheer humanity, the sober understanding that I am only one tiny human and that all of life could come at me quick as that rainstorm on Mt. Katahdin did - it's been with me.
It's scary, feeling unprotected. It feels so lonely, so cold, so desperate. And, if I don't check myself, I can get stuck there - right in the middle of that mountain ridge, wondering frantically if I will ever, ever, feel safe again. Wondering if there's anyway back to comfort.
I have wandered away from God, on my way to this place. I have been so distracted by my worries and my feeble attempts to hold it all together that I have forgotten to pray, forgotten the promises of God. I've stumbled right onto this ridge without even realizing how far my feet have carried me. Now I look around and it's all fog; I cannot see him, and I'm afraid.
So often, I feel like I have to squint my eyes and strain my mind in order to make God come into focus. I feel like it's up to me to make him materialize, as though I'm the creator, not the other way around. The journey back to God feels hard and convoluted, like a technical hike in harsh conditions.
But that's just not true. For those of us who are out here on the Knife's Edge right now, wondering how we wandered so far from God, there is a clear way back. For those of us feeling so scared and alone because we can't see our Comforter, he is just beyond the fog.
In Isaiah, this is what God says he'll do for the wanderers:
"Fear not, for I am with you:
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made" (Isaiah 43:5-7, ESV).
God promises to collect us from all the ends of the earth. From the north and the south, the east and the west, the Knife's Edge or the bottom of the ocean, we are within God's reach in every moment. He doesn't tell us wanderers to find our own way home. He doesn't say, Tough noogies and good luck - you got yourself into this mess. He looks at us little humans, his vulnerable and scattered crew, and says he will bring us back from our wandering, because we "are precious in (his) eyes, and honored, and (he) loves us" (Isaiah 43:4, ESV).
It's the easiest and hardest thing in the world, getting back to God. Easy, because we don't have to do a thing except to tell God we trust him and ask him to please rescue us from the lonely mountain ridge. Hard, because trusting God when we can't see him feels like stepping out for the next rock without being certain where it is.
At the beginning of this lenten season, let's recognize our tendency to wander, and call out right now for the Comforter to rescue us from our scary ramblings. We don't need to waste any more time trying to find our way back alone. God will pick us up wherever we are and hold us close to himself. To surrender to his saving will be like that warm bed, that hot tea, that steaming bath - that comfort that we all desperately long for in the middle of our long journeys.