Are We There Yet?



Three years ago, I found myself on the side of a very steep hill, wondering, “Am I ever going to get to the top?

We’d seen the round-topped hill from our apartment in southern Spain, on a trip we’d saved and planned for. We thought we’d enjoy the views of our town from up there­­—slung between ridge tops in the high, rocky hills.

“Where does the trail begin?” we asked the man at the gas station. We couldn’t see anything that looked like a trail. He sent us out behind his garage, between the chicken yard and the old truck, up past the barbed wire. We happily strolled along a rough track through blooming almond trees and spring lambs, wild sage and figs. We felt like true adventurers off-road and off-map.

Soon the track disappeared, the ground under our feet became a scrubby, pocked hillside, and the faint paths crisscrossing the field kept ending in barbed wire. The going was slow, and difficult. When we stopped for water, we watched in disbelief as a much older Norwegian couple climbed nearby. It was like something out of a cartoon. They just zoomed straight up the ridge. We decided to follow them, thinking it must be easier on their path.

It wasn’t.

We faced the same terrain, same type of climb. When we got to the top, the Norwegians had been waiting quite a while. They encouraged us to carry on to the high point a short distance away. Then they did the coolest thing: they pulled out a metal box and wrote our names in a book of those who’d made it to the top.

We continued on. As we approached, everything changed. Wild flowers covered the hillside. The high point was open and green, with three ancient olive trees and a palpable sense of the holy. We walked around, let the wind cool us, and dwelt in the kind of silence that mends your soul. Our rocky hill felt just like the kind of terrain Jesus and his disciples might have walked.

So many of the stories in the gospels are about Jesus being on the road. They’re about provisions and help and talking on the way, amongst themselves and with others. The miracles of bread and fish, of stones and fig trees, felt more tangible in that dry landscape.

The clouds were gathering and the temperature dropped. We could not stay long. The way back down was even worse than the way up, with thorns catching at my feet and hidden holes. I’m an intrepid hiker, but I was almost in tears by the time I reached firm ground at the bottom. But it was all worth it.

Back in the central square, we found out that a monk had lived up on that hill for many years, among the olive trees and flowers and wind. At first, I thought much about that holy feeling, and the way the monk’s life had sanctified the space he faithfully tended and prayed in. That feeling is still powerful. But now, I’m also thinking about those with me that day. My husband and son, who shared food and water and grumbles, also felt the thin place on top. I thought of the two hikers who encouraged by their example, as well as by waiting for us and writing our names in that book. They took time and celebrated us. We made it! And then there’s the hermit who, though long gone, was still known in that place.

When we got back to town and sat down at an outside table in the square for a celebratory glass of wine with the locals, I felt so grateful we could look up and see that hill as a reminder of a holy moment reached and lived in, of persisting and not turning back or giving up. That moment of eternity, where heaven pierced time and seemed to hover was worth every difficult moment.

It wasn’t the fancy buildings or post cards, or the impressive medieval city nearby that stayed with me. Rather, it was a hill in a small town where a hermit lived with shepherds and farmers in a poor landscape; and a palpable sense of the Holy.

God dwelling, God present, God having answered the calls of one faithful one. Oh, that our lives might be those thin places!

We have these hills to climb, but we don’t have to do it alone. God accompanies us, provides for us, waits for us, as He has through the ages, and will forever to come, until the final gathering when the waiting is over, and we stand there with Him fully visible.


Image credit: Karan Jain