Sunday, September 03, 2006

Engaging Life Fully

Eugene Peterson in his foreword to one of Philip Yancey’s books[1] recounts this story from his family’s memory bank:

“A favorite story in our home as our children were growing up was of John Muir at the top of the Douglas fir in the storm.[2] Whenever we were assaulted by thunder and lightning, rain sluicing out of the sky, and the five of us, parents and three children, huddled together on the porch enjoying the dangerous fireworks from our safe ringside seat, one of the kids would say, ‘Tell us the John Muir story, Daddy.’ And I’ll tell it again.”

“In the last half of the nineteenth century, John Muir was our most intrepid and worshipful explorer of the western extremities of our North American continent. For decades he tramped up and down through our God-created wonders, from the Californian Sierras to the Alaskan glaciers, observing, reporting, praising, and experiencing—entering into whatever he found with childlike delight and mature reverence.”

“At one period during this time (the year was 1874) Muir visited a friend who had a cabin, snug in a valley of one of the tributaries of the Yuba River in the Sierra Mountains—a place from which to venture into the wilderness and then return for a comforting cup of tea.”

“One December day a storm moved in from the Pacific—a fierce storm that bent the junipers and pines, the madronas and fir trees as if they were so many blades of grass. It was for such times this cabin had been built: cozy protection from the harsh elements. We easily imagine Muir and his host safe and secure in his tightly caulked cabin, a fire blazing against the cruel assault of the elements, wrapped in sheepskins, Muir meditatively rendering the wilderness into his elegant prose. But our imaginations, not trained to cope with Muir, betray us. For Muir, instead of retreating to the coziness of the cabin, pulling the door tight, and throwing another stick of wood on the fire, strode out of the cabin into the storm, climbed a high ridge, picked a giant Douglas fir as the best perch for experiencing the kaleidoscope of color and sound, scent and motion, scrambled his way to the top, and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on to dear life, relishing weather; taking it all in—its rich sensuality, its primal energy.”

I am not surprised that this episode became a treasure in the Peterson family’s memory bank. I wonder what the story meant for Eugene’s children and what it inspired them to be and do. Like all good stories this one has many applications.

Here is Eugene’s application as he commends a book on Philip Yancey’s pilgrimage with the church:

“…this [story] became a kind of icon of Christian spirituality for our family…. A standing rebuke against becoming a mere spectator to life, preferring creature comforts to Creator confrontations.”

Geoff Pound

Image: John Muir among the pines

[1] Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. This story by Peterson appears in the Foreword, 7-11.
[2] Edwin Way Teale, (ed.) The Wilderness of John Muir Boston: Houghton & Mufflin, 1954, 181-90.