It's strange, but I've always had a hard time with high places. Not because I'm afraid of them, but because I crave them. When I'm up somewhere on a tall building or cliff, I actually have to hold on to something in order keep from taking a flying leap off of it. I've never been able to explain this, and it's not as though I have a death wish, but rather, I feel compelled to fly out into the beauty of the sky and the air as if I could capture it's essence and brand it in my heart, to revel in the unknown, to feel the wind bearing me up. These feelings don't fall into the "mother" category, nor the Very Responsible Person category, nor the category that folds laundry or pays bills. Yet, somewhere in my being is the girl who wants to jump, heedlessly and recklessly into the abyss.
Last weekend, some friends and I went up to Knapps Castle late at night. We laid our plans at Cold Spring Tavern circled up around a smoking oil lamp under low hanging wooden beams. In the glow of dark red Budweiser cans and Manhattans we decided to embrace the night in all its glory. We had a guitar. We had the moonlight. We had a castle somewhere out on a cliff as our destination. We knew the road well, but it's been years since I was there at night. As we straddled the precipitous climb up East Camino Cielo, the lights of Santa Barbara spread themselves out beside us in a resplendent shimmering glow. The dark expanse of the Pacific was a great and velvety backdrop: a reminder of our smallness against the immensity of nature. There was a full moon - a tawny wind blowing up from the south and, though it was a February night, the air was fresh. We rolled out of the car and put on every item of clothing we could find inside of it. With the wind whipping us along, we set out to hike into the canyon.
Knapps Castle perches hundreds of feet above the back country. From the ruins, you can see the ocean on one side and the wilderness stretching out for a hundred miles on the other. On a clear day, it is breathtaking. At night, under a full moon, in absolute silence, it is magical.
We sat in the amphitheater on carved out steps of what once was the living room. A towering two storied fireplace ruins stretched up to the sky. Kirby got out his guitar and played his songs and sang poetry which rose up like incense into the night. We relished in the quiet and the beautiful words; we held our breath as we felt the wind die down and silence fill the canyon. Then Kirby started playing an old hymn - one I hadn't sung for years.
Suddenly, I felt the timelessness of everything, the deep welling-up of joy at hearing words long forgotten and the invisible fellowship of humans who come from the same roots. As we sang together a song that filled the lips of my grandparents and their parents before them, I had a sense of peace and wonder at words, hidden deep, that came out and flowed in harmony with another person.
Among the words and melody, I was transported to a rooftop in Jerusalem, where I sat back to back with a college friend. That was years ago, and I remember looking out across the dark desert, a warm wind whipping my hair, feeling effortless, feeling a part of the very fabric of the universe. We were all at the edge of our lives then, toes at the abyss, leaning out, confident, faithful, hearts turned toward the future with the optimism of youth. We could jump off the cliff and nothing would happen to us but the beauty of love and life and poetry and the warm wind as it bore us up. That was before we were tried and tested, before we knew what we were capable of, before we really knew ourselves at all, actually. That night, just like this, I felt the essence of God's greatness and his presence in the dark beauty of the heavens flung out, full of meaning.
As Kirby had said earlier in the evening, music comes from a deeper place. That's why as kids, when we sang in church, we learned the sweetness of our soul stretching upwards toward a loving God. We created music as a response, not to our own goodness, but to God's. To reflect and rejoice. To cry out, to ask, to confess. To tell the human story, to chronicle our own defeats and triumphs. We also learned to lean into the abyss, to trust that we would be borne up by invisible and unchangeable hands.
As an artist, I think my desire to leap off the heights comes from the same place as the passion to make the perfect set of notes or a sentence. It is the desire to become lost in the Great Unknown, it's the addictive pursuit of artistic joy. We feel deeply, and we race toward the abyss with abandon, whether it be out of desperation or fullness of heart. We're given passion and an insatiable urge to produce beautiful things, just as we are clinging to the edge of ourselves, waiting for an excuse to let go and fling ourselves over into Beauty.
At this point, I've walked some very dark roads and come back to God with nothing to give but my broken life. I've become a different woman than I thought I would be. My wounds are part of who I am, and they remind me of how I've been loved and what I've lost and what I've gained. I look back to the college aged me with fondness. She was beautiful and indestructible, but I, molded and shaped by my failures, am much more true.
I look at Kirby, at John and Patty and Dana. All loved and all beautifully made. We are together and yet alone. We get to have this moment in time as a gift. It is a glimpse into heaven and into our own hearts. It's what we yearn for when we're down in the valley. The lofty mountain peak and a wind that carries us toward the stars.
We drive home with the glow of moonlight on our shoulders. It is February, the snow moon, the hunger moon. We are hungry for life and beauty, ravenous, actually. I see it in all of us. I am filled with words and music. And I'm still the same girl as I was in Jerusalem, leaning out over the edge of the abyss in expectation of Something I will never fully understand. But I live in hope and I lean out a little bit more each day. The wind will bear us up and we will soar on eagles wings. I know it.