Monday, September 14, 2009


It was late afternoon, the last day of our vacation, when Dutch and I ventured out with the girls to walk the beach. North of Manzanita, at the very tip of the coastline, sits a large mountain covered in dense pines. Ages and ages ago some coastal Indian tribe named it Neah-kah-nie which means “hole in the sky” - a fitting description because on a clear day that is precisely what Neah-kah-nie does: it cuts a mammoth hole in the sky.

But wait one moment, I can hear someone saying, I thought there were no clear days in Oregon – isn’t that why they call it the rainy Northwest? This is an exaggeration. For although the landscape is often crowned with gray drizzle, the weather – particularly out on the coast – is more often fickle. In a given day, conditions alternate from dense fog, rain, and cloud patches, to radiant, beaming sun, to rain again.

Thus, whereas that morning – in the earnest sunshine – I had been able to see Neah-kah-nie as clearly as the nose on my face, now it was blanketed almost completely in a dense fog, as though a cloud had – quite miraculously – fallen from the sky and swallowed it whole.

If I didn’t know the mountain was there, I thought, I never would have ‘seen’ it.

It struck me, just then, how little perception has to do with reality. It is the weather which alters my ability to see the mountain, I thought, but the mountain does exist – as surely as the raindrops on my shoulder, or the sun on my face. No wonder sociologists talk of ‘cultural climates’ for just as the fog alters my perception of the mountain, so the culture in which I live alters my perception of the world, hurling some things into the foreground of my consciousness while casting others backward into oblivion.

It is somewhat astonishing, then, that there are any ‘well-educated’ persons – in our day and age – who still dare to believe in God.

“Persons of faith,” as we are sometimes called, cannot be responding to the consensus of mainstream culture which persistently insists that we are, if not victims of hallucination, then intellectual lightweights unwilling to grapple with the hard truths of science and seeking, instead, to satisfy some insatiable need for security and solace in a cruel, chaotic world.

But more than a need for solace (for faith, in my view, does not function as an opiate), I would argue that we are responding to something else – some indescribable sense that “this is not all.”

As the afternoon faded into the pale light of early evening, I watched Neah-kah-nie re-emerge slowly from the fog. Isn’t that a bit like how faith in God is born? You catch a whiff of something in the air so you look up and – at first, see nothing. But then, you’re not so sure, it, whatever “it” is, comes round again; you strain and look until – there! just there! – you see behind the thinning layers of fog, something emerging out of the darkness.

Indeed, I thought, Neah-kah-nie is a fair metaphor for Christ. There He sits at the tip of my proverbial town – of all that comprises my reality – and yet I often do not, cannot see Him. Instead, He is obscured, so often covered by clouds.

Meanwhile I walk up and down the sandy coastline of my life, scurrying here and there, gathering shells, filling pockets, emptying buckets, building and smashing and re-shaping sand castles, exhausted, but never looking up, never stopping long enough to squint and try to see him through the veil.

Perhaps my greatest sin is one of forgetting or an unwillingness to remember (I’m not sure which) that all I have to do to commune with Him is approach the mountain and be still.

But the mountain sits there, waiting for me. Even more, it beckons to me and transfigures itself now and then so that I see it glimmer in the sunset and flash out across the water, all the time begging to be climbed.

The question is, will I, when all it takes is putting one dumb foot before the other?

I want to. More and more, I want to. I will try.

This vision of Neah-kah-nie was my ‘gift from the sea,’ the thing I have carried home with me, in more than the pockets of my beach clothes, and which I hope will remain, when all else has been put away and forgotten.


Sommer said...

heather- before we moved the the NW, this amazing "disappearing" act that God performs with his cloud cover used to happen on the rarest of occasion with the mountains behind my parents' house. I can SO vividly remember the awe of the entire mountain being missing. I am thankful that God gave your this beautiful metaphor and your soft and willing heart to share it, now my experience has new and eternal meaning to it as well. Beautifully written.

Jordan said...

I could just hug Nie for sending wonderful people like you my way. So happy to meet you here. Lovely words and world you have.