By Scott Keith –
A few years ago at the very tail end of my vacation, Joy and I took all of our children and Dr. Mallinson’s son, Auggie Mallinson, to Yosemite. While Joy and I have been several times, by mere coincidence of timing and obligation, most of our children have not seen the grandeur of the Yosemite Valley. Joy, Autumn, and I left Dr. Rosenbladt’s house in Portland and drove to meet everyone else (Caleb, Erika, Joshua, and Auggie) at the Bass Lake resort just outside of Yosemite. We had fun at Bass Lake driving Jet Skis and cooling off in the now almost completely empty lake. Bass Lake is fun, but it is no Yosemite.
The next morning (after all getting ready in one bathroom) we headed off for Yosemite. Before we left, I asked my oldest son Caleb if he would mind me driving his car into the valley. He naturally asked why. I told him that I wanted him to trust me, and it would all be clear once we got through the tunnel. You see, I wanted him to have that moment of awe that can only be had if one is ready to “take it all in” upon coming through the Yosemite Valley tunnel. Rather than focusing on the car in front of him, I wanted him to see it for the first time unobstructed. He agreed, and so we set off.
Those who have never driven “through the tunnel” may not understand my intention. When first entering Yosemite National Park, one drives for almost 40 whole minutes through what seems to be a beautiful, if not common, forest. It is perhaps still a wonder, but it is not wondrous in the same way that the Yosemite Valley is. After driving through the forest for those long 40 minutes, the road leads to a long tunnel. Before the tunnel, one may not have even believed that one was in Yosemite at all. But once through the tunnel, the wonder of the Valley is opened. Immediately upon emerging from the tunnel, moving from darkness to light is blinding. But once eyes have adjusted, facing those who have come through the tunnel stands El Capitan, Half Dome, a view of Bridal Veil Falls and even the Merced River winding its way through the Valley. It is truly like nothing else I have ever seen. When I first saw it, it literally took my breath away.
I have come to realize that once one has come through the tunnel, one is from that point on in Yosemite. All of the wonders and the grandeur of the place are available to all who enter from that point. Parking at Tunnel View and spending some time there will reveal everything that has made the place such a wonder since its establishment in 1890. Sure, there are things one cannot see from Tunnel View––Yosemite Falls for instance––but from that point on, one has experienced its magnificence. Based on my time at Yosemite, even at just coming through the tunnel, I have come to believe the words of Jon Muir: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” (Muir, The Yosemite)
But, to be sure, Tunnel View is not all there is to see in Yosemite. I have climbed Yosemite Falls with Joy, and Paul and Cindy Koch. Joy, Autumn, and I have climbed Nevada and Vernal Falls. Together we have spent time on Glacier Point. (I have yet to climb Half Dome, maybe next year. Anyone game?) Every time I climb one of the peaks, I realize that Yosemite is not just what was revealed to me at Tunnel View. Every climb provided me with a different perspective and experience than that when I first drove through the tunnel. Every time I have gone further up and further in, Yosemite seems bigger to me, more brilliant, maybe even more spectacular. And yet, when I think back on my first emersion through the tunnel, I can hardly believe that to be true.
So what am I getting at? Lately, as the Lutheran world has been fighting over what it means to “be a good Christian,” I have reflected on my time at Yosemite. When I was baptized some 43 years ago I became a Christian, just as when I passed through the tunnel I was in Yosemite. Everything that has happened in my Christian life from that point forward––every Gospel sermon I’ve heard, every time I’ve taken the Supper, every time a brother has forgiven me in the name of Christ, every time I’ve forgiven a brother in Christ’s name, every moment I’ve spent in the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints, every time I’ve watched one of my children baptized, every time my wife expresses her love to me––has brought me further up and further in to my faith. Yet, upon being baptized I was in the faith. I am no more saved today than I was that day so long ago. Just as I was no more in Yosemite after climbing the falls than I was at Tunnel View. But I have seen more, and experienced more, and certainly heard the wondrous Good News more, and partaken of His gifts more, but I am no more or no less what I was when He first claimed me.
Upon arriving at Yosemite, one could choose to stay at Tunnel View; though that now seems absurd. Upon Christ laying His claim on His own for the first time by Word, or water and the Word, one could choose to “stay at the font” as it were. One would never really have to experience what the Christian life is like further up and further in. Though that now seems absurd, as well. When one arrives in Yosemite, one naturally wants to experience more, to climb and hike the peaks, float and swim in the river, play and picnic in the fields, even to camp and stay a while. When one is folded into Christ, the same is true; that is, more is desired. Thus good works are necessary because the view from the entrance is so beautiful that all who see it, necessarily, by the gift of faith, desire to see, hear, smell, and feel more.
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” (Lewis, The Last Battle) For those of us who are in Christ, the life of faith for the saved (the new life, the new obedience, free before all, servant to all, good works, Word and Sacrament, brotherhood of the saints) is our country. Living the life of faith is moving further up and further in together, knowing that an even greater country is yet to come. Further up and further in!