You have to work hard to be unimpressed at 3000 ft. granite monoliths like El Capitan and Half Dome, the graceful Merced River, and the breathtaking waterfalls on the Mist Trail and at every turn in Yosemite Nat’l Park. And don’t get me started on the 400 billion stars of the milky way that shine through the clear dark nights. The infinite creativity of God made evident in the processes of the natural world are truly awesome to behold. Did I mention that my family was in Yosemite last week?
Apparently, the Yosemite tribe that first lived in this area named it Awooni for “gaping mouth.” Awooni I was told, describes the valley’s gaping mouth-like appearance which its massive walls certainly display. Even so, I could think of another origin for the name Awooni (or Ahwahnee from which the hotel gets its name), and that’s the jaw-dropping awe and amazement that humans display when they first lay eyes upon it! That, in any case, was my child-like reaction at every turn.
Ahwahnee is good for the soul. Returning from a hike to Nevada Falls last Wednesday, we struck up a conversation with a mother on one of the many Hybrid buses that ferry tourists through the park. She was a woman of the darker hue and she said she had come here with her daughter to get away from the city and find some peace. It was her favorite place in the world. Understand that I had just heard about the tragic deaths of two more black men at the hands of police officers apparently much too quick to engage with deadly force; soon to be followed by the murders of several brave officers in Dallas, and the continuing sad tale of racial division in our country. So as we spoke it was evident that current events were weighing on her, and that she had come here to heal. I felt I should do more listening than talking on this particular day; but in that brief interaction, we shared our wonder at the renewing power of God’s creation in the midst of a broken world.
We all need places to go where we can experience ahwahnee…. awe and wonder; where the restoring presence of God sets us on our feet again in this hurting world. For me, a beautiful mountain trail, a stunning waterfall, or an ocean sunset brings great refreshment. But so too does the church, that awe-inspiring place where God has gathered people together from every tongue, tribe, and nation -- to worship him and serve him, but also to listen, to care, and to show compassion for one another. Hope to see you soon….