Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 24) transports me to a worship service at the Jubilee Community, circa 1999, when Kim was on staff as children’s minister. Worship at Jubilee has always been uplifting and engaging, if not downright entertaining, based as it is on the theological bent of creation spirituality. You can always count on Howard Hangar to creatively bebop his way through the lectionary text, but on this particular Sunday morning, we were blessed with one of the many incredible guests who would show up at Jubilee from time to time. I had never heard of Walkin’ Jim Stoltz prior to that morning, but I have enjoyed reading his journal entries and listening to his music ever since. Before his life was cut short by cancer at age 57 a few years back, he logged over 28,000 miles climbing peaks and hiking ridges, beginning with the Appalachian Trail in 1973, and including the Pacific Crest Trail, an east to west cross-continent hike, the entire U.S. Continental Divide, and trips from Yellowstone to the Yukon. Walkin’ Jim came to Jubilee soon after recording his 8th CD, The Long Trails, a collection of original songs written from mountain-top vantage points. I enjoyed the spirit of his music, and appreciated his stories even more. I loved hearing about the time his beloved trail guitar, Stella, saved his life. He had hiked to the top of a 12,000 foot peak in Utah and made camp. The next morning, as he began the descent, he realized too late that the slope was ice-covered. He slipped and began careening toward a cliff. With no ice-axe, he clawed at the ice to no avail. He turned over on his back, so he could witness what his end was going to be, and just in the nick of time the neck of Stella, which he always carried on his back without a case, stuck into the ice, leaving him peering over the cliff’s edge.
Walkin’ Jim Stoltz was as pure-hearted and clean-handed a human as I’ve ever met. I loved the way his life incorporated and wove together adventuresome outdoor experiences, lively music, and strategic political advocacy for environmental protection. Walkin’ Jim’s picture would serve as a perfect illustration to the lyrics of today’s Psalm. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God. I think of all the efforts people are making today to climb Mount God, as the Message translation puts it, with hands tainted with the dirty oil of the Tarsands, with hearts compromised by hydraulic fracking, trusting in the idols of polluting energies and having the gumption to call them clean. Lest we get on our high horse and point fingers of aspersion at these industries, we must confess that it is our own climate-controlled lifestyles and our demands for an affordable ease of mobility that necessitates these industries. I suspect it will take an army of pure-hearted Walkin’ Jim Stoltzes who would rather walk than fly to create a tipping point in the direction of renewable energies.
This journey up God’s holy hill, to the peak of an ecologically balanced life, starts like any journey with the first step. The first steps for me include reading the journals of people like Walkin’ Jim and finding my own way to make the connections between daily walks, music, and advocacy. The beauty of his language matches the beauty of the landscape he traversed. As he was completing a 1,000 mile trek across the Big Sky mountains of Montana in 1991, he wrote this journal entry: The sun came and went, sharing the day with brief showers and rosy rainbows as I made my way over Canuck Mountain and a series of unnamed knobs. The land became more rugged. I began skirting the cliffy ridge. Wilderness is a matter of sense, and I had felt the land growing wilder with each mile. A coyote loped across a nearby clearing. A marmot whistled a warning. Water oozed slowly back into the track of a grizzly bear. The rains washed everything clean. Each rock, tree, sight and smell was sharper and more clear. My awareness flooded with each rich gift presented to it. The cold, dreary miles were behind me, but also a part of where I was now standing. How can you get somewhere without traveling every foot of the way? And isn’t the Way the entire journey? Each mile of the approach is a mile closer to the end, but also a mile of its own, added to the heart of the traveler. May we all add our own miles to the journey as we seek to purify heart and hand so we, too can travel every foot of the way up God’s holy hill.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.