It was an early fourth morning at Hance Creek, one of the few lush, vibrant ecosystems in the heart of the dry, arid, and unforgiving Grand Canyon.
We had been on the trail-less Escalante Route the three previous days, hugging the mighty Colorado River in complete isolation, far from the usual touristy stops along the south rim and well beyond the maintained and frequented hiker trails that ascend and descend in and out of the canyon. We were in the rarely traveled back country of the Grand Canyon.
Our last ascent from Hance Creek would take us up a couple thousand feet to the visually stunning Horseshoe Mesa and then another thousand or so feet to our end destination at Grandview Point.
As we broke camp and steadily trekked toward the base of Horseshoe Mesa, there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement and trepidation. Excitement that we were conquering yet another highly-prized backpacking bucket list adventure that would add serious cred to our growing resume, but trepidation in knowing what kind of climb still stood between us and our exit.
The sun was already blazing in the cloudless early morning sky and there was all but a single, lowly shade tree as we approached the towering mesa. We thought it would be the perfect spot for a quick drink and a temporary reprieve from the sun before our big climb.
As we stood there in our short respite, one of the guys asked if I had any music on my phone. Usually I clear everything off of it in order to make room for all of the pictures I take during the trip, but to my surprise, there was one single song waiting in the queue.
As I pressed play, we all quickly quieted.
In that one anticipatory moment, “Passing Afternoon” by Iron and Wine sweetly greeted us, and, to be honest, it felt as if I had never heard a song before.
There was an overwhelming intimacy I had never fully experienced through a song.
There was an acuteness to every sound, to every word sung. There was a simple, yet profound appreciation for every note, every melody, every harmony. There was a resonance in the depths of my soul that made this moment one of the most memorable of my life.
For four days, the only sounds we heard were of nature — the blowing winds, the rushing waters, the melodious singing of birds and each other’s voices.
And in finding that space, it was nothing short of a peaceful and calm bliss.
For the sounds of busyness and distraction had been silenced. Every tendency toward consumption had been vacated. An easing stillness cleansed and refreshed our souls.
And it was there where my appreciation was renewed.
I wasn’t listening to a song as a means to distract or as one trying to fill the void of an uncomfortable silence or as one simply consuming to consume. I was fully present and listening, as if for the first time, with deep appreciation.
Let me tell you.
There is something renewing and refreshing about purposefully removing oneself to find refuge in the stillness and quiet, or intentionally abstaining and then slowing reuniting. It is an essential discipline undertaken to be continually reminded of the resident goodness and simple beauty of all that we can all too easily take for granted.
And it is in this kind of intentionality of seeking the refuge of stillness and quiet, of purposefully escaping the incessant activity, busyness and noise of life, that moves us from a place of endless addiction, mindless consumption and taking what we have for granted to a place of simplicity and beauty, to a place of experiencing and appreciating all things anew.
I had this same experience and depth of appreciation when I fasted for a week a few years ago. When I met with my brothers with whom I had been fasting over that week, we took the warm, homemade molasses and honey communion bread with a cup of deep, red earthy wine together to break our fast. There was an intensity and complexity in what I could smell and an explosion of diversity in what I could taste.
In that moment, I was thoroughly appreciative and truly thankful.
We live in an age in which stimulation and consumption are all too normal in our lives.
The culture we have created keeps us constantly seeking more and more stimulation, and we are never quite satisfied or at peace in stillness or solitude, let alone finding the essential refreshing of our souls in that space.
The culture in which we live and participate keeps us consuming and discarding, and we never quite find the satisfaction in what we have, let alone appreciating or finding beauty in it.
For it’s not in seeking more and more stimulation or consumption in which we find greater depths in this life. It is only in a regular rhythm of sacrificial discipline where the Spirit can awaken our senses to discover and appreciate, moment by moment, all that we take for granted.
We were a few hundred feet from the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. We had traversed 110 miles over eight arduous days through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in areas too remote for even the strongest cellular signal.
It wasn’t the first week-long backpacking trip we had taken in which we were not able to communicate with our families. And it is always a surreal experience to be so remote, so off the grid that one has no way of hearing the voices of their loved ones, of knowing what is going on in the world or knowing what kind of world one is walking back into.
But as we finally reached the 14,500 foot summit of Whitney, something unexpected happened. Our phones began to vibrate and ring continuously at different intervals, almost as if we were each receiving our own unique Morse code messages, as they connected to service.
As I looked down at the screen and began to read my text messages and then listen to my voicemails from my wife, my kids and my mom and dad, tears began to stream down my face.
There was a sweetness and tenderness in their voices that I had too often overlooked or had not fully appreciated.
The truth is that we can very easily miss the simple beauty of those things that we take for granted, those things we quickly discard so we can consume more.
And so much so, that we may not even appreciate the richness of what we have right in front of us, whether it be listening to a song, eating a meal or enjoying the company of those we love.
Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website at brandonandress.com.