Wind whips across the rocks, tugging and pulling at my hair, my shirt, my hat like a small child asking for something. I grip harder with both hands on the metal chains and think again about how ridiculous I look — straddling two rocks 800 feet off the ground, holding a dinky chain that doesn’t feel at all solid — all for what I was promised is a gorgeous view. I can’t look down.
At Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, a skinny, winding rock trail leads out onto a precipice jutting across the verdant Utah canyon, and all that separates you from a long fall are a small chain and the kindness of strangers. As nerve-racking as the climb may be, stepping out onto the final ledge is nothing short of miraculous for those afraid of heights, like me.
But if you dare, a 360-degree view of red rock, deep green, winding rivers, and majestic mountains stretching for miles awaits you, and if you time it right, you’re one of the few people up there. You can see the sky stretch out above you and the horizon line extend.
This is my church.
I’m not a practicing anything at the moment, though I celebrate the major Christian holidays with the rest of my family and say the occasional grace at dinner. In my normal, day-to-day life, I don’t find much room for religion.
I’d rather rush around from place to place and thing to thing and not think about my place in the world. That suits me just fine. I spend my summer Sundays not in a sweltering building but walking, hiking, biking, canoeing, anything to be outside. That’s when I make a connection.
It’s when I make it to the top of a mountain that I can feel something real. I let myself go quiet — in mind and in body — and breathe in the mountain air, listen to the birds chirping or the river cutting its slow path through the rock. Slowly, as nature begins to envelop me, I can sense that something’s out there. There’s a reason why they call it Zion, named after the “City of God.”
For me, this feeling persists on any major peak. Even when there’s no jaw-dropping view to appreciate or the ridge is cloaked in fog, I feel a sense that the “something” out there is bigger than me, more tangible up here than at sea level.
But it doesn’t have to be a mountain for it to feel mystical, to feel right. Wake up at sunrise and run through pine trees glistening with dew. Strap on snowshoes and jump from pile to pile of feather-like snow along a mountain ridge. Find a comfortable bench on an oceanside walk or run along the packed dirt around the lake. Seek out the wild places (and the not-so-wild ones) where you can be alone and think for once about where you fit in the world.
You might be surprised at what you find.
Originally published on May 1, 2017.