July, 2016

Dear Friends,

Dear friends, Peace be with you!

This month, I return again to Yosemite National Park in Northern California, where I help out at the little mission church, “Our Lady of the Snows,” saying Masses on the weekends for the locals and the tourists, and living in one of the dark wooden cabins, right off Yosemite Village, given to the local diocese for visiting priests. I spend time here every few weeks, living amid the Redwoods, Ponderosas and Sequoias, walking in the glacially sculpted valley, staring up at the towering cliffs and stunning waterfalls, studying the chickaree squirrels and deer as they pass by, and taking in the fresh mountain air.

Here, in Yosemite, I breathe in the present moment of peace, and step into the splendor of creation. Here, I realize that I am one with creation and her creatures, and I inherit the earth and enter the Promised Land. Here, in other words, I step out of the culture of war and into the Kingdom of God and join the global prayer for peace.

In May, I stood for a while over a little clear creek next to a gigantic gray boulder and watched a big bright blue and black Steller’s Jay take a bath. This is one of my favorite birds, an enormous bright blue bird with a black head, with black feathers that come to a point on its head like a black Mohawk. He stood on a stone, jumped into the water, splashed around, shook his wings, then jumped out and looked around quickly to make sure he was safe, as if to make sure no one was watching. Then he jumped back in. I watched him jump in and out over twenty times. There I saw the sheer beauty, innocence, peace and joy of creation, of life itself—the creek, the rock, the redwood trees, and the magnificent Steller’s Jay. He was brimming with life, as were the waters, the rocks and the redwoods. As is all of creation.

The day before, a lovely brown deer walked pass my window in the early morning. I opened the front door of the cabin and stepped outside, and there he stood about twenty yards away. He looked right at me, and then started walking toward me. He came to a stop about eight feet in front of me, totally peaceful and unafraid. He looked at me for a while, and when he realized that I had no food for him, started on his way again. A moment of perfect peace.

Yosemite is the first of our national parks, with over three million acres of the High Sierras set aside, and one of the most beautiful reserves in North America, if not the whole world. The deep valley with its rivers and creeks cuts through enormous granite cliffs for some fifteen miles, ending in front of the domineering Half Dome rock. Millions of people visit each year. My cabin is located just near the base of Yosemite Falls. I step out my back door and look straight up at the majestic Upper falls, the highest water fall in North America. A half mile away, those waters turn into the rushing lower falls.

As I walk through Yosemite Valley and take in the fullness of creation, I try to listen, to be aware, to be mindful and attentive. I let go of my worries, concerns, problems and issues, and enter as fully as I can into this paradise. It’s like stepping into the Garden of Eden. One wants to be fully present, to have a heightened consciousness and awareness of the beauty that surrounds us. It is all gift. For me, Yosemite, like the other natural wonders of the world, bears the fingerprints of the Creator. It is a sign of God’s presence, but it is also a summons, a calling, a responsibility. Yosemite, like all of creation, is alive and ever-changing. It is pure wilderness, pure wildness, but it is vulnerable, too. We cannot make it, but we can destroy it and once we do, it’s gone forever.

Like the earth itself, Yosemite hangs in the balance. It begs us to wake up, receive its gift in peace, celebrate the Creator together in peace, and do our part to stop the ongoing destruction of the earth.

When I come to Yosemite, then, I turn my back on the culture of violence and war, and step into the new life of peace and resurrection. But there’s more. In Yosemite, I enter that Promised Land of peace, reserved for the meek, the gentle, the nonviolent. I’m not claiming to be worthy of such a blessing, but I recognize it and name it for what it is. In Yosemite, everyone can inherit the earth. But that gift requires a change of heart, and a new intention. From now on, we must go forward, back into the world of violence and war, to do our part to end the killing, the suffering, and the ongoing destruction of the earth. Yosemite, along with all of creation, calls us to consciously stand up and stop the insane destruction of the earth before it’s too late.

Sending blessings of peace to you and all as we go forward in hope,

–Fr. John