Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving for Mt. Rainier

By Josh Gross

Dear friends,

Sometimes the challenges before us seem overwhelming. The implications of climate change are so dire, and the Earth so close to the tipping point, that it's hard not to give in to despair. This isn't helped by the fact that many Americans are still in denial about the reality in front of them. Given our situation, it's often difficult to find anything to be thankful for. But if we take a moment to pause we'll quickly realize just how much we have to be grateful for. There are so many good, wondrous things in this world worth celebrating! In honor of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I'd like to take some time to describe one reason I have to be thankful this fall.

I've been in Seattle for three months now, and during that time have had many wonderful experiences. But when I reflect on the ones that meant the most to me, nearly all of them revolve around the earth. The first of these is my trip to Mt. Rainier. In September, Ballard First Lutheran church organized a hike on Mt. Rainier and invited the Lutheran Volunteer Corps members in Seattle to join them. I will be forever grateful to Pastor Erik for giving me that opportunity.

I was impressed with Mt. Rainier as soon as I entered the park. As we drove up the long, winding road to the higher portions of the mountain everything I saw filled me with awe. Never before had I seen a forest like the one covering the lower reaches of Rainier. They were so lush, so green! The massive trees were so densely packed that I wondered how any creature more than a few feet tall could navigate them. And all of them, even the trees that were lying on the ground, had some sort of moss or lichens growing on them. This was my first exposure to the temperate rainforest, and I loved it. But the forests were nothing compared to the mountain itself.

Once we ascended above the main forests and the snow-covered peak came into view, my heart stopped. Everyone in the van gasped, and one of my fellow volunteers was so shocked by Rainier's greatness that she screamed. It wasn't a frightened scream, like the ones given off by children when they awake from nightmares. It was instead an exclamation of wonder: as if her body had suddenly been filled with so much awe that it burst forth in a flood of emotion. As for myself, all I could do was stare at the massive compilation of snow and rock that now towered over me. No words were needed.

Hiking on Mt. Rainier was the most magical experience of my life. The sights, sounds, and smells I took in will always be part of me. But even more significant than Rainier's beauty is the lesson it taught me. When I was first confronted with its enormity, I felt incredibly small. But further reflection showed me that the opposite is true. Yes, according to physical measurement I am tiny compared to even the smallest mountain. But the same God who shaped Rainier shaped me, indeed all of us, as well. What's more, God entrusted us with the care of all creation. It is our job to safeguard such amazing works of nature as Mt. Rainier.

This is a huge vote of confidence in humanity. God wouldn't have appointed us stewards of creation unless we could fulfill that role. The unique gifts of intellect and ambition our Creator endowed us with give us the power to alter the world around us; even mountains. So far our species has used this power to degrade the planet. We horde its resources for the benefit of a privileged few, causing great damage in the process. But humanity's gifts also give us the ability to set things right. If we work together we can change the course of history. We can bandage our planet's wounds and slow the bleeding. Over time we may even be able to stop it entirely, and help the earth heal. We may not see these changes in our lifetimes, but if enough of us join together they will happen.

So this Thanksgiving I am most thankful for two things. The first is the opportunity to hike on Mt. Rainier. That was the trip of a lifetime, and even now I'm in awe of that mountain's greatness. The second is the power our species has been given by our Creator. The intellect we've been given grants us the ability to be truly effective stewards of Earth. We have only to cast off the self-effacing shackles of greed and realize that our gifts are meant to benefit more than just ourselves. They are meant to benefit us, our neighbors, and all creation. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have been given these abilities, and for the opportunity to share them with all of you.   

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