Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Mountaintop Experience (Literally)

(Photo, American Kestrel, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service; image is in the public domain)

This story took place on Haystack Mountain, which rises from the far side of Mapleton in Aroostook County, Maine. It’s not a difficult climb, but the rocky top affords one a beautiful, open view for miles around. While I was home for the summer following my sophomore semester at college, I had made it a habit to climb up there and pray every few weeks. I had recently felt some stirrings in my conscience, prodding me to share my faith in conversations with acquaintances or even strangers, the thought of which makes the introvert in me want to curl up and hide. But as I prayed there on top of Haystack, I made a deal with God. Knowing that even though Haystack had a climbing-trail that was well-known in the area, it wasn’t a frequent occurrence to find others on the mountain at the same time as oneself, I prayed, “OK, God, if you really want me to witness to someone, send them up here to the mountaintop, and I’ll talk to them.” It was only about ten minutes later that I caught sight of a group ascending the mountain, led by a young, tattooed man with gold rings through his nipples. They made it to the top, a family group of four, who had apparently climbed the mountain to drink beer, swear, and chop away at an old stump with their jackknives while diligently ignoring my presence. I knew what I should do, but I certainly didn't want to. Both my own personality and the solitary culture of northern Maine held me back. I was so uncomfortable that I was writhing inside, and for a full half-hour I couldn’t make myself go over to them. Then I prayed, still hoping to get out of it: “OK, God, if you really want me to go over and talk to them, you’re going to have to give me a kick in the butt to get moving. Send me a sign!” Now, one should not pray for signs for things that you don’t want to do, because when they come, it leaves you in a very awkward place unless you buckle down and obey. Immediately after I prayed that prayer, quite literally as I was opening my eyes, I saw a small, brightly-colored falcon drop out of the sky and make one full circle around the mountaintop. This was my sign, and I knew it the moment I saw it. It was absolutely clear. Let me back up a bit to explain: when I was younger, I loved birds. I practically memorized my field guide. But the bird I loved most of all was a small, brightly-colored falcon called the American Kestrel. I had never actually seen one, not even in Aroostook County, where they’re not uncommon, but I loved that falcon nonetheless. As a boy, whenever my brother and I would make up superhero identities for ourselves, I would be “The Kestrel.” That bird came to symbolize life, joy, and, most of all, adventure. And now, in the split second after I prayed for a sign to embark on a heart-pounding adventure of my own, I see my very first kestrel drop out of the heavens above me. Well, that was enough for me. I got the message, swallowed my fear, and walked over to the family. I talked with them for about half an hour, mostly with the middle-aged mother, who seemed most receptive, while the three men kept whittling away at their stump-project. There was no mountaintop conversion that day, but I think I was able to bring some encouragement into her day, and it left me riding high at the wonderful, daring reality of a life lived in obedience to God.