What I love about the Bible is that it teaches us how theology always involves biography (people) and geography (places). Throughout the Old Testament, we see how Abram sets up altars along his spiritual journey to becoming Abraham, the father of many nations. At one point, Genesis is so specific on this it states that he built an altar near "the great trees of Mamre in Hebron."
Yet how many of us view the places where we are, where we visit, are exactly the places where we can encounter the presence God in our lives? In this collection of essays, Roger W. Thompson does and he writes about it in wonderful prose:
We search mountaintops and valley, deserts and oceans, hoping sunrises and long views through the canyons will help us discover who we are, or who we still want to be. The language of our hearts reflects that of creation because in both are the fingerprints of God.
How many of us have lost that concept of the sacredness of place and how that relates to our lives. Throughout the book, the author connects the places of John Muir, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac to the memories of his own life, of his family and friendships amidst rivers, mountains and deserts and does so with humor, honesty and wide-eyed wonder.
One of the most beautiful chapters (A Gathered Blue) in the book is one that deals with sorrow and grieving over the loss of their stillborn child. While in Sonoma. California, Roger and his wife begin touring the vineyards of wine country. In one of my favorite passages in the book, Thompson writes:
The earth was organized in undulating rows of vineyards. The vineyards were created with love, and the love could be tasted in every glass of wine. With a little distance we were able to talk about the loss. We walked the vineyards, where we learned the best wines grow in struggled soil. We studied the vines, scarred with age. The signs left behind by years of pruning are easily visible. We also learned that the best wine grapes grow on vines with the most scars. Struggles create richness and complexity, producing a wine worth sharing. Pruning is an act of love by the vinedresser.
What a gorgeous metaphor for the heartbreak he and his wife were going through and one that relates to all of our lives.
Roger W. Thompson understands the importance that the world can have on us both physically and spiritually. In our technological age where we spend so much time looking at our screens, we have lost much of the wonder that comes with the impact of being out in nature. The places Thompson writes of (Big Sur, Yellowstone, the Black Hills, the Sierras) are able to expand our imaginations and open one's world in ways nothing else can. These places expose us to what he calls "the deeper magic behind it." It is magic indeed and this book makes me long to go out exploring it even more.