The Ed Abbey Memorial Backpacking Trip IV

A little introduction…

This is my “trip journal” while walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Beldon, Calif. at HWY 70 to HWY 36 at St. Bernard’s Lodge (48 miles or so) with my friends Joshua and Allan. You can read my first entry here, my second entry here, and my third entry here.

Still Day Three
7/25/10 (written 7/29/10)

…We braved a long, steep embankment full of switchbacks that promised us spranged ankles or, even better, deadly free-falls with only short missteps. The darkness, becoming darker and darker every minute, didn’t help much either. So, at around 23 miles into our day three (10 miles past our goal), we sat down to rest on the trail, unsure of where we were. Anxious that we had taken the wrong trail, fearful of injuries, exhausted and in pain, we came to a 2-1 vote to stay put for the night. I didn’t want to camp there (the lone dissentor), but the other two did. In the end, I decided to listen to their judgment of the situation instead of mine, partly because of the same risks that in all honesty even I feared and also partly because I often put myself impulsively beyond good sense in order to salvage a gain, only to find a greater crisis as my consequence.

Before I go into too many details, though, I’ll share the psalm (Salmos 27) that I prayed and memorized prior to the night’s arrival. I walked with this Hebrew scripture, memorizing it, while keeping in mind a Wendell Berry-ism that has always seemed true: “The Bible is best read outdoors.” The background for many of the stories and visions and voices of the Bible come from fields, mountains, trees, animals, wind, sea, and flowers. Without that immersed understanding of our sacred story in the world, we might simply miss the opportunity to actually hear the writer’s communication, powerful and inspired as it is.

Ok. Back to Salmos 27.

Salmos 27

Jehová es mi luz y mi salvación;
¿de quién temeré? Jehová es la fortaleza
de mi vida; ¿de quién he de atemorizarme?

Cuando se juntaron contro mí los malignos,
mis angustiadores y mis enemigos, para comer
mis carnes, ellos tropezaron y cayeron.

Aunque un ejercito acampe contra mí, no
temerá mi corazón; aunque contra mí se
levante guerra, yo estaré confiado.

Una cosa he demandado a Jehová; esta
buscaré; que esté yo en la casa de
Jehová todos los días de mi vida, para
contemplar la hermosura de Jehová y
para inquirir en su templo.

Porque el me esconderá en su taburnáculo en
el día del mal; me ocultará en lo reservado
de su morada; sobre una roca me pondré
en alto.

Luego levantaré mi cabeza sobre mis
enemigos que me rodean; y sacrificaré en
su taburnáculo sacrificios de júbilo; cantaré
y intonaré alabanzas a Jehová.

Oye, oh Jehová, mi voz con que a ti clamo;
ten miserdicordia de mi, y redimeme.

Ha dicho mi corazón de ti: Buscad mi rostro.
Tu rostro buscaré, oh Dios; no escondes tu
rostro de mi. No apartes con ira a tu siervo;
mi ayuda has sido. No me dejes, ni me desemp-
ares, Dios de mi salvación.

Aunque me dejaron mi padre y mi madre, con todo,
Jehová me recogerá.

No me dejes en la voluntad de mis enemigos,
porque se levantaron contra mí testigos falsos;
y los que respiran crueldad.

Hubiera desmayado yo, si no creyese que
verá la bondad de Jehová en la tierra de
los vivientes.

Aguarda a Jehová; esfuérzate y alientese
tu corazón, si, espera a Jehová.

Those last two stanzas sum up my posture of dependence and trust that night alone on the ledge. My two friends were in and out of sleep, one more so than the other (which incidentally became confusing because his snoring very naturally resembled animal growls). So, as I alone waited for the bear noises in the woods to subside (I’m pretty sure it was a bear), the sun to rise, and my heart to stop beating up in my throat I decided to repeat another line from the psalm, over and over again: “yo estaré confiado,” which roughly translated means “I will trust” or more literally “I will be confident.” Of course I said this while taking deep guttural breaths in an effort to calm my body and muster some sort of spiritual courage (versus outright panic).

I didn’t feel at home on the trail that night. Maybe that was because we arrived in the dark and couldn’t get the lay of the land. What we could see was not very hospitable. We were not welcomed by the usual campsite setting (stream, flat ground, birds chirping, flowers, luscious trees), but only by a desolate-looking steep hillside with long fallen trees, unknown whereabouts, lots of loose dirt and dusty trail, a low moon blocked by the remaining giant trees (including no stars and sky), loneliness (or solitude, depending on who’s telling you), crazed night creatures (a bat in Allan’s sleeping bag!), and only a steep shelf along the path to sleep on. In other words, I finally realized, after two nights on the trail, that we were guests out here and not necessarily invited guests, but imposed ones.

Between my intervals of heart-pounding “headlamp security” (where I shined the light all around us every 5 minutes or so) and the empty feeling of exposure and helplessness, my prayers became direct, daring, and filled with an unknown trust. The salmo, it seemed, had risen through me into the night and created a well of suffering, which became a bodily form of worship for me amidst the fear and weakness, perhaps a prelude to the dawn that resurrected for us in the morning. On a secondary level, I guess my night-time fears also served as an alarm system for the rest of the group, a watchman, if you will. And just like other areas of life, it wasn’t the end of being watchful when morning arrived. It did, however, signal an arrival into new beginnings back at home and there on the trail: my walk, my silence, my prayers, my marriage, my son, my profession, my stuff, my friends, my family…my life. Another dark night and a “bon voyage” into the cup-of-everyday.

Hard Questions (Q#4): Radicalism, Family, and Following Jesus


What is a young family to do with a desire to follow Jesus more radically? This series of email exchanges I had with Paul Munn over a year ago (starting in April of 2009) attempts to explore some of that. To get caught up with the series, read question #1/response #1, question #2/response #2 (which are one post), and question #3/response #3.

Question #4

From: Jason
To: Paul
Sent: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 11:02:03 PM
Subject: RE: work, gift, prayer

Hi Paul,

Sorry for the delayed response. By looking at your blog, though, I suspect your enjoying other kinds of activities besides “computer time” anyway. We are actually still in Peru, although we were supposed to leave last Sat. My son (Santiago) came down with Bronchitis, so we decided to get him treated here before trying to fly home. Internet access since then has been a bit challenging, but now I’ve found the perfect spot to use my laptop (the bathroom!) now that my sister-in-law got wireless internet. My wife’s family is numerically rather large. Julissa is the oldest of 8 kids. Her youngest sister is 8-years-old, just to give you an idea. So, needless to say, getting a few minutes apart from the group (and getting access to the internet) can be an amazingly difficult feat.

Staying in Lima these extra few days, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about some of the immediate consequences related to following Jesus in his radical way of life. This whole trip, in fact, was designed to give us space to wonder about and consider our so-called “next step” (as well as to introduce Santiago to my in-laws). It’s been very enlightening to have conversations while here with my father-in-law, for example, who has been unemployed more than he has had a job income for about 3 years. Today, he and I talked for about two hours. He said some profoundly wise things. Things like: “Jason, you ought to spend more time praying. Jesus told us to ‘Pray always’ [I’m not really sure who said it actually. Was it Jesus or Paul?] and he went away from the crowds, on the mountains, to be alone.” He told me the story of an old lady who came to a church talk that he attended with some of his fellow seminary students. Whereas seminarians tend to get a big head pretty quick here in Peru (for lots of reasons too long to list), this old women from the mountains (the total opposite, in terms of status and respect) told a story about how she had been in the hospital about to die but felt called to go (on foot) to the villages around her village, sharing the Gospel, taking no money with her. She did, in fact, leave the hospital, made her trip, and came back (without any sickness either). More importantly, I think, the story she told and lived represents a different kind of hermeneutic than most seminarians or ministers are accustomed to knowing. She was a woman from the margins, with nothing special to show, no privilege or money. And in spite of her lack, she became an example for studied people like me (and my father-in-law), which is why I’m glad he told me her story. My father-in-law did at one point suggest that behavior like hers and Jesus’ perhaps isn’t the norm (”Jesus was God. We are not.”), but he wasn’t discrediting the goodness of such a hermeneutic.

I got a potential job opportunity with a language institute here in Lima. My wife and I have been talking about moving here/living here for a long time. On the one hand, it’s exciting to think we could be getting closer to our goal. But it’s also hard because I have seen, over the last year or so, how seductive and compromising city life can be (in the States too, for that matter). It all seems to revolve around money and what you can buy or pay somebody to do. In that light, I’m not sure if we’re all that prepared (spiritually, emotionally, culturally etc.) to live well under those kinds of pressures.

Do you think taking a paying job is distrustful of God’s strength to be our bread and to provide for our daily needs? Is it possible to accept a wage and experience/know it as a gift? Is it possible to sell our possessions (like Jesus asked his disciples to do) and have an institutional-type employer? If we stayed here in Peru, we would almost literally have no possessions. But Julissa wouldn’t ever (I don’t think) say yes to me rejecting a formal get-paid-for-work-kind-of-job or to us living poor without some plan for our economic situation to someday improve. Any thoughts or ideas on all this?

By the way, I have eaten cuyi (Guinea Pig)! Julissa and I were celebrating something (I think it was an anniversary) in a posh 5-star restaurant and they had it on the menu. I couldn’t resist. I’m not sure if it tasted like the actual paisanos (country people) make it, but it was pretty good.