There are moments when the course of a life changes. We are swept away and cannot go back to the way we were. Yet, we can live in those moments for years, always carrying them with us. Sometimes we live in the tragedy of a failed marriage or the death of a sister or brother. Other times we are haunted by the beauty of a first kiss or the happy silence between two best friends. Whether the yoke is heavy or light, we bear it with us.
At the end of the summer, in September in 2008, I hiked alone to the summit of Flinsch Peak. The day began in doubt, hovering on the edge of a storm. My climb the day before had been cancelled due to weather, and I was not convinced that I could complete today. The mountain summits were socked in by low clouds, and the night had left fresh snow on their slopes. But I knew that I had to try.
And so, six miles later, I found myself at Dawson Pass, shivering in the violent wind. But the summit was clear, the cloud making way for my climb. Step by step, I ascended. The leather of my boots was worn and cracked, and the snow began filling my shoes—my feet now numb.
I took ten steps, stopped for breath, and took ten more. This process repeated itself until it became five steps at a time, then three. Always I fought the shrieking wind that threatened to throw me down. Finally, I reached the cliffs just below the summit. Working my way to the right, I found a spot that I could scramble up, and I stepped into a new world.
Beauty surrounded me—. To the southwest, the knife-point of Mount Saint Nicholas was poised to pierce the clouds. Below me, the spine of the Nyack Valley stretched rich and green into the distance. To the northwest, Pumpelly Glacier clung in a long line to the backside of Blackfoot Mountain. To the east, beyond Rising Wolf Mountain, the prairie spread golden across rolling flats for a hundred miles. There—more beauty in every direction.
When I returned to myself, I realized that the summit was still, the storming wind had been calmed. Tall clouds raced east in a straight line above me, but I had found a still, calm shelter on the edge of the storm. All in all, I spent an hour at the summit, taking in the beauty and re-building the summit cairn.
It is a moment that I return to often, happily lifting stone upon stone in the stillness of the wind. If you asked me why I believe in God, I would tell you the story of that moment. Through my life, I have seen how beautiful the world can be—and how ugly. I cannot forget its ugliness, nor can I forget its beauty. When tragedy threatens and overwhelms, I return to this moment, and I remember.
In the contest between ugliness and beauty—between fear and love—beauty wins. I believe in God because God is beautiful.