One of the great recent blessings in my life was the chance to spend a little time in the desert southwest. We call it our ‘Grand Canyon’ vacation. But in truth, a side trip to Monument Valley in southern Utah was my favorite stop along the way.
The scenery there is spectacular. And by luck of the draw (or God-incidence, perhaps?), our little traveling party wound up with a private tour—just the four of us in an open Jeep, with Leroy our Navajo guide.
Leroy didn’t want to be there that day. He’d been called in to help handle the overflow of tourists on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But something about entering in to this sacred desert space changed his mood…and before long, he was taking us to places that not everyone gets to see. And he was telling us stories that not every tourist is patient enough to hear.
He showed us one spot in particular that captured my fancy: An enormous slab of sandstone perched at an angle against an even more enormous butte. ‘When we see a leaning rock like this,’ he said, ‘it tells us the Spirit is within.’ Then he went on to recount the story of a shaman who had shown up at the tribal park headquarters one day, asking to be taken to this spot.
The pilgrim had traveled from somewhere in Europe, and though it was his first visit to America…he seemed to know all about this particular leaning rock. And he needed to be there, to circle around behind the slab… slip into the coolness and quiet of the small cave whose entrance it protected…and simply experience spiritual ‘energy’ he found there.
With Leroy’s permission, I too spent some time in the shaman’s cave – and found comfort there. I was in the middle of the desert, but for a moment, I felt completely protected and secure. Later in the day, I journaled about the experience – reflecting about Elijah and his experience on a similar kind of holy ground.
All those memories came rushing back to me this morning, when I joined in reciting the responsorial psalm at Mass.
I love you, O Lord, my strength,
O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
I remembered experiencing the comfort of the cave…behind the rock. I remembered, too, how terribly exposed the rocks themselves were, throughout Monument Valley.
And I found an unexpected blessing in that contrast between rock and cave. The Lord, it seems, promises to be with us in both situations.
The Lord is near when we enter into the stillness and quiet.
The Lord is also near when we feel horribly exposed.
And I could understand, at last, the words spoken by Jeremiah when all his world seemed to be crashing in upon him:
Sing to the Lord
Praise the Lord
For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!
What a blessing – to be able to sing in every circumstance of life, because we know the Lord, our Rock, is near!